“You’re not seriously thinking of taking him up on it?”
Paris stood up from her seat next to my desk, stretching; it was late and she needed sleep. Unlike my unalterable five hours and forty minutes a night, Paris’s sleep patterns were normal for her active lifestyle; she needed a full night’s sleep.
I gave myself a minute to compose a real answer. “I… don’t know. I’m certainly going to check out what they’re saying for myself.” I looked toward my computer monitors but didn’t really see them. “If I really do have genetic markers for any disorders, I need to follow up on that.”
“Well, yeah! But get, like, a real doctor,” she scoffed. “You didn’t give him your DNA to look at, did you?” I shook my head. “The mad scientist who stole a sample from you shouldn’t be your first choice for a GP, lil’bro.”
I shrugged. “I get what you’re saying, but… you know as well as I do that medical conditions surrounding supers are not well-researched -”
“A problem,” Paris reminded me, “that your Doc has a fair bit to do with.”
“I don’t think so.” I rubbed my nose, feeling a bit of fatigue creeping in myself. “I mean, I think the scandal set back some research when it happened in the eighties. But I don’t see people connecting current research with Stevens.” I stood up and contributed my own lazy stretch. “It’s probably just money. Rare diseases often have trouble getting a research budget behind them, because even if a cure is found, they won’t sell enough of it to recoup costs.”
“So, what’s the point of worrying about a problem that nobody can fix, anyway?” She shifted her gaze – this wasn’t an enjoyable topic for her.
“That’s the thing – Eutopia is run by supers, and it’s bankrolling Doc to find solutions to super problems.” A couple of clicks of my mouse locked my computer and I gestured for Paris to join me in climbing the stairs.
“So they might actually have treatments to some of these rare conditions,” Paris admitted.
“They might be the only ones that do. Couch tonight?” I ducked into my bedroom for my guest sheets and extra pillow.
“Mom’s expecting us for breakfast,” my sister called from out in the hallway. She never came into my bedroom – a leftover habit from the respect we always gave each others’ spaces when we lived under the same roof.
“We’ll head over at four thirty.” I passed her to head into the sitting room, tucking sheets into the couch. “Gives you time to shower at home. I’ll pack the leftovers to make breakfast sandwiches when we get there.”
As I turned to face Paris, I noted that she had a troubled expression on her face. I sat down on the newly made ‘bed’ and patted for her to join me. I knew it would take her a bit to work up to it.
The clock read 4:00 as I jerked myself awake. I cursed internally – whatever Paris had wanted to speak with me about the night before, I had apparently went to sleep soon after, and had lost it.
I quickly Viewed the missing time. My sister and I had talked on the couch for about twenty minutes. She had cried at one point, and there were multiple hugs. I noted the discomfort on my own face during the hug but I hadn’t said anything – a hug by Paris could easily feel like getting ground against multiple rocks if she was less than careful. But the scene gave me no clue as to what we had talked about.
My increasingly frequent amnesia was one of the few secrets I had managed to keep from my parents and sister up to this point. With them already concerned that I was having trouble keeping a handle on my immediate environment, I didn’t want to give them further reason for worry. But the fact that I was finding myself jerking awake more and more often with no memory of heading to bed the night before was becoming dangerous to ignore – and I had no obvious excuse.
I started the coffee brewing before jumping in the shower. When I came into the kitchen shaved and dressed, Paris was sitting there gulping down her second cup from the two-serving pot. Her eyes were red from crying. I wish I knew why.
“Did you say the office was today?” she asked as we pulled out of my garage. This late in the year, we had beat the sun by two hours at least.
“Hopefully, yes – if the two people I’m wanting to hire show up. The initial work is finished, but I’m not exactly conducting this job interview in a conventional way.”
“It’s not exactly a conventional job,” she chuckled.
“True. Ah, hey.” Better to bite the bullet. “About last night.”
In my peripheral vision I saw her tense. She said, “Not this morning, please, Hector. I need to be exhausted or drunk to be willing to get into that.”
Unfortunate. “Okay, but. Just know I-”
“I know,” she snapped. “Have you decided where you’re headed tonight?”
I didn’t remember mentioning to her that I was planning to hit town that evening. “Probably Tin Roof. Or if it has a long line, The Scene.”
She made a gagging noise. “You always go to The Scene.”
“Because there’s never a line.”
“Because it’s played out.” She was grinning at me now, blatantly teasing.
“That’s why it’s my fallback.”
“Lame,” she insisted. “I’ll be at your place by six.”
“Heaven forbid I dress myself,” I muttered.
“Paris forbid at least. Heaven prob’ly has higher standards.”
I noticed a street light flickering a block up from Mom and Dad’s house and made a mental note of the location. Mom was already up and putting on coffee when we walked in; Paris quickly bounded up the stairs while I sat my bags on the counter and started unpacking plastic containers.
“Didn’t we just send all that home with you yesterday?” Mom asked, moving up beside me for her filial kiss. She wore a silk robe tied loosely over full flannel pajamas; the nights were certainly cold enough for them.
“Yes, and I’ll take the… leftover… leftovers with me when I go,” I promised. “I just like hot breakfast sandwiches the day after Thanksgiving.” I brought out a package of English muffins; Mom nodded and pulled out some eggs.
Eggs define a breakfast sandwich; you can add eggs to just about any sandwich or wrap and call it breakfast. But I agree with the trend to also differentiate the sandwich bread. I don’t personally like the extra sweetness of pancakes or waffles, although I understand the appeal. That leaves biscuits or English muffins, and the latter are acceptable when slid into a toaster oven with just a bit of butter to melt in. Biscuits are a whole separate production.
I prefer to stir my sandwich sauce into the eggs, which can fluff them up a bit. A moderately spicy barbecue goes well with slices of leftover turkey. I brought over some pre-sliced Swiss cheese for the girls, but I count the eggs in place of the cheese and top mine off with the usual litany of fresh sandwich veggies.
As an experiment, I tried adding stuffing to a skillet of shredded potatoes for a twist on hashbrowns. It was edible but not great.
Paris joined us just as the plates were being added to the table. She somehow looked both bigger and older in her uniform.
“Where did you two get off to last night?” Mom asked as we got settled.
“Just Hector’s place,” my sister said. “A New York super got kidnapped. I hung out and watched Delphic crack the case.” She beamed at me with genuine pride.
Mom took a bit of her sandwich and chewed thoughtfully. “You’re being called in for things like this more often now, aren’t you?”
“Not really,” I answered immediately. Then I took a mental step back and thought about it. “I mean, there has been a gradual build-up of demand from when Delphic first started assisting super teams. This is part of why I’m opening the office.” I took a long drink from my water glass. “There are enough people asking for my time that it makes sense for there to be a person other than me for them to talk to.”
“You mean Delphic’s time, dear,” Mom corrected softly.
“No, actually. I mean my time.” I had been thinking about this quite a bit recently. “They may think what they’re looking for is help from Delphic, but what they are actually asking for – what I will actually give them if I agree to help – is my time. My mental energy and focus in finding the information they need.” I took another long drink; I found I wasn’t very hungry.
My mom nodded and seemed to be considering what to say next. After a minute, she shook her head and took another bite of sandwich. Paris looked from her to me, and then said, “I think Mom is concerned that you seem to be investing more of yourself in Delphic, and not doing as much with Hector.”
Mom nodded, chewing.
I shrugged. “Maybe, but why is that wrong? Delphic has earned more than fifteen million dollars in the past five years. He’s saved hundreds of lives, has appeared on national television, and is regularly called upon by some of the most famous supers in America.”
Both Mom and Paris were looking between each other and me with increasingly worried glances, but I pressed on. “Hector Donnell lives alone. He earns thirty-five grand a year fixing power lines and hooking up cable. He’s got loving parents and an amazing sister,” I nodded at them with a real smile, “some good friends he plays games with. And that’s it.”
The girls didn’t seem to have an easy response to this. I took a bite of hashbrowns and added, “I don’t want to neglect you, or push my friends away. But the rest of my time? What other people devote to challenging careers and involved hobbies?” I dropped my fork and put a hand to my chest. “I am saving lives with that time. Catching bad guys. It’s not exactly a waste.”
There was a lull in the conversation as everyone focused on their food. Paris broke the silence. “Speaking of catching bad guys, I have a case for you.”
“Really?” It had been a while since she had asked me to help with one of her cases in Detroit Homicide. The last had turned out to be three gang members from Mega – same as the young man that tried to kill her a couple of days later. “I thought we were holding off until the investigation on you closes?”
“I thought so, too,” Mom put in. “No reason to push your luck, dear.”
“I know, but…” she swiped on her tablet and handed it to me. “Take a look.”
It took me a moment to understand what I was seeing, and when I realized what it was, I immediately pushed the tablet away from me. “Not during breakfast, please!” It was some gory surgical scene.
Paris grinned. “Sorry,” she said with no sincerity. “Point is, this is an unusual case. The polar bears at the zoo have been getting sick for several months now. This week, one of them died.”
Mom scoffed. “DPD is solving a bear homicide? Or ‘ursacide,’ I guess it would be…”
Paris shook her head. “It’s not the bear’s death that brought us in. It’s what they found inside the bear.”
“They did an autopsy on the bear?” I asked.
“Yeah, like I said, all the bears had been sick. They wanted to figure out why. What they found were bone fragments in the stomach that were identified as human.” She swiped at her tablet again. “Once they knew to look, they found other remains in the bears’ leavings… looks like four to six humans over as many months. We’ve matched two missing persons reports, but it’s tentative.” She shrugged. “They didn’t leave us much to work with.”
I looked over the scraps of my breakfast and decided I was ready to be done. I took the tablet back. “So why bring this to me so soon? This was just uncovered, right? It’s hardly a cold case.”
She shrugged. “Yeah, but this isn’t a single incident. It’s a pattern.”
“You think the killer is still active,” Mom realized.
“And until he’s found,” Paris pointed out, “there’s no way to know how often he’s killing or why. He could be hiding bodies in different places.”
I finally caught on. “You’re thinking serial killer.”
My sister made eye contact with each of us and nodded. “The Detroit Zoo isn’t in an isolated location; there are much easier ways to dump bodies. This smells like routine to me. Ritual.”
I shuddered. The very idea of someone who killed, not as the means to some selfish end, but as a twisted end of its own – killed for the pleasure of it – was deeply disturbing to me. Paris seemed to be having similar thoughts.
“I will remind you, children,” my mother broke the glum silence, “that roughly half of confirmed violent psychopathy is linked with powers.” She got up to pour herself a fresh cup of coffee.
“I’ve actually read up on this. I think there’s massive self-selection bias in that statistic,” I said. I waited for a response, but my sister just beckoned me in a ‘get on with it’ gesture. “Powerful supers can do a lot more damage more easily than a normal human. My guess is that we detect and catch more of these supers because they kill more, sooner, rather than because they are more likely to go psycho.”
Mom sat back down and leaned on the table. “Any evidence behind that hypothesis?”
“Power distribution. Only a small minority of supers have powers that would meaningfully help them kill, maybe fifteen or twenty percent. But of those super-powered serial killers, the number is more than ninety percent.” Both Mom and sis looked skeptical; I knew they’d be checking my stats later. “The rate of psycho killers among ‘weak’ supers, or at least ones with powers that aren’t useful to a serial killer, are close to proportional.”
Paris shrugged while meeting my eyes. “Either way, Mom, we’ll be careful.” She rose from her chair, smoothing down her uniform and giving me and Mom goodbye hugs. As she turned to go, she flashed a big grin. “Oh yeah, don’t forget to tell Mom about the Doc sequencing your DNA and wanting to run tests on you.”
Mom gasped, “Say what?!” My sister was already out the door.
So much for sibling solidarity. I could feel the heat of Mom’s stare without having to look up. “Baby, what’s this about Doc Stevens and your DNA? I thought he knew you as Delphic.”
I ran my hand through my hair. I really didn’t want to get into this with Mom today. “He does. But remember, he helped Delphic with the situation where the CIA was targeting me as Hector. Doc and his team see Hector and Delphic as friends, just like Laila and Kurt do, and the government agents we’re suing.”
I took a breath to collect my thoughts and risked a glance at Mom. She nodded that she was following, so I continued. “Doc called Hector today, introduced himself, and said they had my DNA. I had four super genes out of the fifteen, he said.”
“I thought there were nine.”
I shooed that line away. “He had a Eutopian doctor insisting I could have any of twelve genetic diseases and needed to come to them for testing.” I took a breath, then released it. “That’s it, really.”
“What do you think he really wants?” As Mom spoke, I noticed her tone had modulated to something more neutral – her professional therapist voice. It meant she was scared.
“Probably just data.” I shook my head. “If he’s telling the truth about the four genes, I’m probably rare for a first generation super.”
“We already knew you were pretty rare, son,” she replied. “As far as we know, your ability is unique to you.” She ticked off her fingers, “Perceptive power, no distance limit, no time limit on use. Even without the fact that you can also adjust forward and backward in time, the other three would have put you in single digits worldwide.”
“All of which means that if Doc knew the truth…”
“There is little chance you could visit him and then leave again. I’ll get those, dear,” she stopped me as I tried to collect the plates for the sink. “You get ready for your business meeting.”
I was not a particularly tall man, but as Mom pressed herself up to me for a goodbye hug, her forehead barely reached my chest. “Hector, I will ask you one thing,” she said, looking up into my face.”
“Yes’m?” I beamed warmly.
“Tell us before you leave, if you decide to go.”
“Or anywhere, really.” She gave me an extra squeeze. “I get worried.”
I had to admit that when I was in my right mind, so did I.