“I want to take you to meet somebody.”
James’ father spoke these words the second the door closed behind his mother. She had left to pick up his younger brother. The words came out as if the closing of the door broke the seal that was holding them in.
James looked up from his homework and waited for an explanation. Realizing his father also appeared to be waiting for something, perhaps acknowledgement, James said, “Okay.”
This seemed to break a second seal.
“I know I’ve told you not to talk to anybody about us,” his father said quickly. “There is someone else who knows about us, though. It’s someone your grandfather had originally been in contact with who knows how we are and what we can do. I haven’t seen him since I was a kid, but I did some research and got back in touch with him recently because I think he could be useful.”
James was surprised to say the least that his father had violated one of his own rules. Still, he didn’t think this opened the door of honesty far enough to shove his admission of confiding in Dave through it.
“Are you sure we can trust him?” James asked instead, privately enjoying that he could question his father’s motives on an issue for once.
“I wouldn’t want you to see him if I didn’t trust him,” James’ father replied.
“Well, what do you think he can help us with? What do we need help for?”
“Knowledge. James, we still know so little about why we are the way we are. We know it runs in the family, but its origins are still a mystery. Doctor Caine might be able to help us understand who we truly are.”
“Like, maybe great-grandpa was exposed to radiation or touched some experimental chemical or was injected with something as a military experiment?” James asked, becoming visibly excited by the possibilities.
“That’s comic book crap,” his father snapped. “You know, I don’t mind you reading those things with your friends, but if you’re going to start thinking that’s real, maybe you ought to stop.”
“Your last name should have been Joshua.”
“Why?” James asked Dave as he shot his way through level 12 on Dave’s Xbox.
“Because that’s how super heroes’ alter egos are supposed to be. It’s supposed to be the same letter for the first and last name, or at least the same sound. Clark Kent. Peter Parker.”
“Bruce Wayne? Steve Rogers? Tony Stark?”
“Those are more regular guys,” Dave said, sounding defensive. “Batman was rich enough to buy and make weapons and mentally disturbed enough to use them. Captain America was basically on steroids. Iron Man was smart enough and, again, rich enough to make his own suit. The ones that had accidents that lead to their super powers all have the whole initial thing going on. Bruce Banner, Reed Richards, Steven Strange, Matt Murdock.”
“So instead of James Harwick, I should be James Joshua?”
“Or Johnson, or Jackson, or Jorgensen or something with a j. You could even go with the soft g like George or Geoffery.”
“Or Giraffe,” James laughed.
“James Giraffe? Yeah, that would strike fear into the hearts of villains everywhere.” Dave shook his head. “That’s just being silly.”
James laughed harder. “This whole thing is silly. My name has nothing to do with my abilities. My dad seems to think it’s something that just popped up somewhere back generations ago.”
“Like a mutation?”
“Yeah, something that just changed or evolved in my family a long time ago.”
“Like the X-Men! You’re a mutant, dude! That’s awesome.” Dave dropped the Spider-Man he’d been leafing through and reached into the box on his floor, in short order, producing an issue of X-Men. “Rule still holds, you know. You had Scott Summers, Warren Worthington, Jean Grey…wait, I guess that last one doesn’t work.”
“C’mon, Dave!” James was frustrated enough to pause his game and set down the controller. “Give it a rest. My name doesn’t matter. So what if I’m technically a mutant? Nightcrawler was Kurt Wagner. Beast was Hank McCoy. Hell, Wolverine was just Logan!”
“Yeah,” Dave said thoughtfully, “I guess the trend isn’t as common with mutants after all.”
“Those are just comic books, Dave. Stop trying to figure out my life based on what some guys drew a bunch of pictures about.” James turned back and resumed his game. “Maybe my dad’s right. Maybe I’ve been reading too many comic books with you.”
Dave gasped behind him.
“Wha- Wha- Who do you…Gah!” Dave stuttered and finally said, “I can’t believe you. These aren’t just comic books. You really think all the guys that started out writing these things just made all this up. These tales are amazing…incredible…uncanny! This stuff is too good to just be completely made up. All these writers came up with this stuff because they all knew part of it was real. These are the closest things you have to history books on your family, James. This is research I’m doing here. I’m not just some geek reading comics all day in my bedroom.”
James paused the game again and turned to stare at him.
Dave stared back. For awhile.
Soon, he dropped his gaze and confessed. “Okay, so I am a geek who reads comics all day in my bedroom. But I still think there’s more to these stories. I think there are some details in them that are based in fact.”
James continued to stare at him in silence.
“You’re not, like, trying to start me on fire right now are you? I thought you said you couldn’t do that.”
The old man in the long white coat placed a tray containing vials of blood back into the small refrigerator. One of the vials had an old, yellowed label on it, which read: Jacob – Generation 3, Sample #1. The vial beside it read: Samuel – Generation 4, Sample #1.
The man turned to a table, where stacks of paper and diagrams were spread out in orderly rows. He hunched over them and scanned the charts. The only light in the large, windowless room came from a fluorescent tube that hung above the table where he stood. He ran his finger over the seemingly endless columns of numbers. He then produced a hand-held recorder from the pocket of his coat, held it near his mouth and pressed the record button.
“Doctor Cornelius Caine, entry six thousand four hundred and thirty-eight,” he spoke as he squinted, even through his glasses, at the papers before him.
“Thus far, the limited amount of data is consistent with my theory that the anomalies become more acute as the genetic code is passed down over generations. I have some concern, however, that a great deal of this research relies on personal accounts by the subjects themselves regarding the specific nature of the enhancements in question.”
Doctor Caine straightened himself and winced in pain. He walked slowly to the nearby chair, sitting half in shadow and continued to speak into the recorder.
“I am beginning to see the drawback of my haste in dealing with previous subjects and my dismissal of the information which could have been harvested from them. Regardless, I am confident that obtaining a blood sample from yet another generation and comparing its genetic code with the two previous generations should produce reliable data. I hope to then be able to pinpoint which gene sequences hold the desired attributes. Combining this with the original files from the program should allow me to recreate the process with a very high probability of success.”
Doctor Caine stopped the recorder and set it on the table. He quickly produced a handkerchief from his other pocket and coughed violently into it. He wiped the blood from his lip and replaced the handkerchief in his pocket.
“After so many years,” he began again after retrieving the recorder, “I may finally have the information I need. I had begun to fear that the secrets of the Project Midgard would escape me and that all the time I’d spent searching would prove to be in vain. Yet here, within a few weeks’ time, all that I have been searching for has come to me. I have been presented with a rather fortuitous opportunity.”
The old man turned off the recorder, set it on the table beside him and closed his eyes. Within a few minutes, he was asleep on the chair. His head had nodded off to one side, into darkness.
“Does the place have to look so creepy?” James asked his father.
They rolled through an open gate into a deserted parking lot, weeds growing waist high between the cracks in the pavement.
“This is where Doctor Caine originally met your grandfather. He worked for him here and while the facility has long-since closed, the Doctor still owns the land and the buildings. We figured it would be a safe, discreet place to meet and discuss.”
“That doesn’t make it any less creepy,” James said and turned to look at the gate they’d just driven past. It looked much newer than the rest of the place did and James wondered what good a gate is if you leave it wide open.
“Nervous about seeing a doctor?” James’ father smiled. They pulled the car around to the rear of a warehouse made of grey stone and glass. The windows were nearly opaque from years of collecting grime and dirt. “Don’t worry, if you’re good, maybe he’ll give you a lollipop.”“Ha ha,” James said sarcastically as they exited the car and walked toward a massive iron door. “Let’s just get this over with. It smells funny around here.”