Meddling Heroes, Chapter 4: Secret Life of a Superhero
Einstein told the President to make a bomb, and instead they made a man. A single man with the ability to destroy a country. Generations lined up to either join him or stop him.
There are some who maintain that superheroes existed years before the Nazis forced our hand. Some people believe that mythical figures such as Merlin and Samson were real, or that the Greek gods were ancestors of the modern-day superhero. Whatever old legends might have a grain of truth, the world as Rosey and I know it became shaped by the idea of the atomic bomb.
The secrets of the accident during the Manhattan Project remain classified by the United States government, even today. All that is known is that, while nuclear weapons became a reality during the Cold War, the first step in that direction came from our very own nuclear man, the American Paradigm. He tore apart two Japanese cities single-handedly. To this day, superheroes are still outlawed in Japan. That entire country is still terrified by the idea of a flying man.
In some alternate universe, maybe the Manhattan Project went according to plan. Maybe someone’s mistake didn’t irradiate a lab worker and turn him into an atomic superman. And maybe those who watched the old war documentaries didn’t start to wonder what exactly might happen if Paradigm ever went rogue.
That’s the only explanation I can think of for Rosey and his kind – they’re afraid of what superheroes could do if they forgot the “hero” part of the word. A young Roosevelt Pythagoras, picked on in school, ridiculed for his size and puny stature, one day watched a video of the perfect man in action. In the lives of nerds and outcasts, the “perfect” kids tend to be bullies. I have to assume that Rosey saw Paradigm as the ultimate bully – physically perfect and given a license by the American people to think with his fists.
I can’t say Rosey is right. If Paradigm was going to snap, he surely would have done it decades ago. But I also I don’t accept the idea that Paradigm is all good, and I refuse to believe that Rosey is as mad as people try to say. Because if I’m wrong, it means I’ve made a huge mistake in setting him free.
Now Rosey is standing in the home of a man that not even Paradigm’s might could save. Two full SWAT divisions surround the home. A lieutenant and a detective lean against the wall as Rosey snoops around. Miss Destiny herself stands in stoic observation, hands clasped behind her back and watching Rosey’s every move.
“We do appreciate the opportunity to help out,” I tell Miss Destiny, “but are you and the cops really going to follow Rosey around everywhere he goes?”
She turns to look at me with blank eyes that only have the tiniest of dots of black in their center. “Only when dealing with something of this sensitive nature, Miss Corson.” Her voice sounds almost alien to me – I don’t know what her accent is, but English definitely can’t be her first language. Every word seems foreign to her, unless she’s reciting one of those funky spells of hers. “Criminals are not usually allowed to tread across crime scenes the day after their release. We’re only allowing Dr. Pythagoras to do this because I respect his intellect.”
“This isn’t a crime scene, though. Captain Tomorrow was killed miles from here.”
“And yet Dr. Pythagoras chose to begin his investigation here. That’s telling, one would think.”
All through our hushed conversation, Rosey’s whistling something to himself and tapping on walls and floors. Every once in a while he bends over to investigate a seemingly empty nook or cranny, then straightens out and makes a humming noise as though whatever he just noticed is the most interesting thing in the world. I don’t know what he’s seeing – it all looks like blank space to me – but it’s nice to see him active. He’s not only stretching his muscles, but his mind as well.
Captain Tomorrow’s home – or, more accurately Kingston Claremont’s – is a decent-sized house, but nothing all that gaudy. Apparently, in his double life, the Captain was a tenured history professor at Masters University. Usually, that would be a bad career for a vigilante to have, since there are so many deadlines and tight schedules to navigate around. For a time traveler, I suppose it would be easier to make a hectic teaching schedule your bitch. But looking at the place brings up one thing that’s always confused me about these guys: they have the potential for all the wealth and prestige in the world, and yet they seem content to live firmly in the middle class, holding down a civilian job and all. While the house does have some nice features, like a bay window in the living room and hardwood floors, it’s nothing to write home about. Captain Tomorrow had the ability to travel anywhere in time, but he chose to spend his life as a history professor in the suburbs, not even owning the nicest place on the block. Why not recover a couple Egyptian artifacts and live like a king for decades instead of let yourself wallow in mediocrity?
Of course, he must have come into some money from somewhere, because he does have a few odds and ends here that let us know he really was a superhero. He had several false walls put in that took about a foot or two off of all sides of the living area, each of which had a way of pivoting open to reveal the secrets that Mr. Claremont kept hidden away. The police left the pivoting walls open, revealing spare costumes and fancy chromed gadgetry. Rosey sighs when he comes across the first open wall, disappointed that he didn’t have a chance to unravel the superhero’s secrets.
“Are you sure you found all of these hidden crannies?” he asks the detective. The man looks started that he’s being spoken to and starts stammering out an incoherent response.
“I knew Kingston very well,” says Miss Destiny. “And I scried the home, just in case.”
“So unless he knows how to ward off your magic, there’s nothing here for me to find.”
“Don’t you mean, ‘knew,’ Rosey?” I ask. “’Knew,’ not ‘knows?’”
“Knows,” he insists. “He’s a time traveler, moving in a nonlinear quantum direction. Just because the rest of us go straight down the street without taking that left turn at Albuquerque doesn’t mean that he can’t slip in and out of the alleys.”
“So is he dead or not?”
“Oh, he’s dead – they found his body, remember? But the question is how he wound up in that state. Where was he before he died? Did he pop off to the 23rd century, or slip back to the Dark Ages?”
I turn to Miss Destiny. “Was he on any missions we should know about?”
She blinks at me, which seems like a shrug. “Paradigm spoke to him last, not I. And we’ve both given all the information we have to the proper authorities.”
“If you’re not going to help, then why are you even letting us investigate?”
“Don’t worry about it, Eva.” says Rosey, climbing onto a wooden table and investigating the light fixtures. “I don’t like looking up the answers in the back of the book anyway.”
Miss Destiny gives me a sideways glance and purses her lips slightly. I tilt my head trying to figure out what that’s supposed to mean – the witch makes every tiny movement seem like it’s something she’s planning.
Meanwhile, Rosey’s in another world entirely. If he thinks there’s even a possibility that the super-powered magician he once punched through a wall has something up her sleeve, he doesn’t show it. Instead he plucks a six-inch cylinder off of a holster in one of Captain Tomorrow’s hidden closets and shakes it slightly. The cylinder extends to a body-length rod that buzzes with electrical energy. With another shake, the item returns to its original size. My eyes can’t even follow the movement of the device…it’s like the staff just appears from some other dimension, then disappears, replaced by the six-inch cylinder.
“Interesting,” muses Rosey. “I don’t think he ever…I mean, I don’t think I ever saw him wield this on television.”
“We’ve all got our secrets, haven’t we, Dr. Pythagoras?” says Miss Destiny. She tries to fix Rosey with a look that I imagine is supposed to be unsettling, but he’s already stopped paying attention to her, going back to poking through the dead man’s possessions and constantly pausing to say something to himself.
“The deal was to give him a chance to be useful,” I murmur, leaning in close to Miss Destiny. “If you’re going to try to jerk him around, you should have let me know right away. Then I wouldn’t have bothered his time – or mine.”
“Your time? Don’t tell me you have other supervillains you’re planning on breaking out of jail, Miss Corson.”
“Screw you.” I step forward and raise my voice. “Rosey, let’s get out of here. We’re being given the run-around.”
Rosey picks up one of Tomorrow’s spare goggles and looks through the lenses before shaking his head. “Oh, I know.”
“Then why are we here?”
“Because we’re looking for something the police – or Captain Tomorrow’s allies – wouldn’t have thought of.”
I glance at Miss Destiny. The corners of her ruby lips curl downward. “What do you mean by that, Doctor?”
Rosey totters off to the kitchen without answering. Miss Destiny walks delicately, making no sound as she moves after him. I don’t bother with stealth, and neither do the police who follow after us, their hands on their sidearms the whole time. When we step into the kitchen, we find Rosey with his head poked into an open oven.
“I know none of you trust me…except you, of course, Eva,” he calls from inside the appliance. “You’re trying to keep me busy and out of the way, while giving me enough rope to hang myself with if I’m plotting some crazy new scheme.” He finally removed his head from the oven. “But the trick is that you’re all assuming I want to find out who killed Captain Tomorrow. The police will figure that out, won’t you boys?” He continues without waiting for a response from the officers. “I just want to know how it was possible that Captain Tomorrow died in the first place.”
“The autopsy report would tell you that, Doctor,” says Miss Destiny. “He was stabbed repeatedly, from what I remember.”
“No, that’s not what I’m after.” He climbs up on top of the fake marble countertop and starts poking at the ceiling light, apparently searching for something among the dead flies inside the glass globe. “I want to know how somebody could kill Captain Tomorrow, and why it happened now of all times. The man can predict the future – heck, to him, the future was part of days past. One of the reasons I – or rather, my clone – never managed to kill him is because he knew everything that his enemies were about to do before they did it. So why didn’t he see this one coming?”
When none of us provide him with an answer, Rosey sighs and half-sits, half-crouches on the countertop, like a bird perching. “There’s something very strange about this place.”
“You mean aside from the size and the million hidden panels in the walls?”I ask.
“Yes. There’s something I’m missing…something everybody has missed so far.”
Still bouncing around like he has the attention of a goldfish, Rosey practically dashes out of the kitchen, leaving us to chase after him. He scampers back to the living room and closes the pivoting walls, returning the place to a normal-looking home. An average visitor wouldn’t see a superhero lair – just a nice house with lots of blank space on the walls.
I’m the one who sees it first. “There are no pictures here. No family portraits, no paintings, nothing.”
Miss Destiny’s eyes twitch and she looks at me, aghast that I would have the nerve to serve a purpose here other than just watch Rosey at work. Rosey, on the other hand, gives me a look of admiration.
“Good observation, Eva. I might not have caught that without you.” He rubs a hand across one of the plain walls. “In fact, there are no souvenirs here at all. We’re dealing with a man who met Helen of Troy in person, who viewed alien civilizations, and who made stops everywhere in between. You’d think he would have had a little something to remember it all by. Tell the truth, Miss Destiny, you keep trophies, don’t you? Little mementos or totems from your clashes with hoary hordes of demons or whatever else you magic types deal with?”
Miss Destiny bites the inside of her lip and says nothing.
“There’s nothing wrong with remembering your victories,” Rosey continues. I feel my heart flutter out of fear that he’s about to mention some hidden trophy room of his that would prove our little clone shenanigan to be bunk, but he stops himself from going any further.
“Maybe the apartment’s just a front,” I suggest. “Maybe he had a secret lair somewhere else.” I face Miss Destiny, who is starting to look more uncomfortable by the moment. It must suck to be on supervillain watch duty while Paradigm and the other heroes of Masters City are off fighting real crime. “That’s what you guys do, right? He should have a Tomorrow Cave somewhere behind a waterfall.”
“He could have just kept this place as a front for his secret identity. On the other hand, why go through all the trouble of trying to seem like a normal human if you aren’t going to have something to show off your personality? Who has the money for nice things like this but no keepsakes or souvenirs?”
Rosey stops in front of the bookshelf and starts scanning through the encyclopedias. Between a small reference section and the beginning of what looks to be a lot of Jules Verne novels, there is one single knick-knack that draws his attention: what looks like a Faberge egg, made entirely of silver and sitting in a wooden holder.
“Then there’s this,” he says. “The only ornament in the entire place. Do you have anything you’d like to share, Miss De—”
The egg interrupts Rosey’s musing with a high-pitched whirring noise. Crackles of blue lightning circle around it, and then surround Rosey entirely. I give a yell and lunge forward, trying to knock the object out of his hands. I’m too slow. In another second, Rosey is gone, leaving a puff of gray smoke and nothing else behind.
“Rosey?” I can feel myself shaking, and I tell myself to stop it. Just because I don’t know what’s happened doesn’t mean I should panic.
The police have their guns out now, but it’s not like shooting air can do anything. Miss Destiny steps forward, taking charge with a loud, authoritative voice.
“Everybody stand back. I can find out what has happened.” She holds her hands upwards, her fingers twitching as she starts to sign something in the air. “By the Crimson Seekers of—”
Another whirring noise interrupts Miss Destiny’s spell, and an electric crackle follows it. I realize just in time that I’m standing on the same spot where Rosey disappeared, and I jump back as more blue lightning begins to flash. Time for me to beat a hasty retreat and figure out what to do now that my client just disintegrated himself.
Before I make it to the door, I look back and find Rosey standing in front of the bookshelf again, slack-jawed and pale-faced but otherwise none the worse for wear. His hand is still in the same position it was when he held the egg, but that jeweled ornament is now gone.
“Rosey? Are you okay?”
He turns to face me, hearing my voice but not understanding the words. He opens his mouth once, then twice, closing it both times without uttering anything. Then he shakes his head, dusting cobwebs away and returning to the man I know.
“I’m not entirely sure what happened.” He smiles with those words.
“We should get you checked out immediately,” says Miss Destiny, waving the police back and forming a window with her thumbs and forefingers as she starts a mystic examination of my client.
“No need,” says Rosey, waving her away and stepping toward me. “I’m fine. And I’m done here.” Without so much as taking one last scan through the house, he marches past me and through the door. “We’re on the right track,” he whispers to me as he passes me.
The police stand about awkwardly, looking at Miss Destiny for instruction. She shrugs her shoulder and begins her own investigation, scanning everything in the apartment once more with her magic to see if she can figure out what else she might have missed. I grin and slam the door behind me as Rosey and I head to my car.