Authors: Lucas Flint
Tags: #Superheroes | Supervillains
The man's appearance must have been noticed by everyone, because all of the screaming and shouting and crying in the cafeteria suddenly went silent. I looked back at the other students and faculty and saw that everyone was now staring at the newcomer, though with more confusion than fear.
Only Principal Thomas seemed to get over his confusion long enough to sputter, “Wh-Who are you?”
“Someone who is technically supposed to be in retirement,” said the masked man as he walked up to my table, seemingly not bothered by all of the shocked and confused looks from everyone else.
“How did you get into the school without my knowledge?” said Principal Thomas. “I don't remember being told that we were having a guest today.”
“That's because you have incredibly poor security,” said the masked man as he stopped next to me, again ignoring all the stares from everyone else. “If John Smith High School hadn't had such an excellence academic reputation, I'd rethink sending my son here.”
“Huh?” said Principal Thomas. He genuinely seemed at a loss for words, like he wasn't sure whether to take the masked man's words as a compliment or an insult.
But there was something about the masked man's way of speaking that seemed familiar to me. I looked at him, but his mask and costume covered his body from head to toe, making it impossible for me to identify him. All I could tell was that he was obviously a neohero of some kind, but I just wasn't sure who.
Then Malcolm gasped and said, “Oh my gosh! You're Genius, right?”
The masked man looked at Malcolm, but he seemed more impressed than annoyed. “You recognize me?”
“Yeah!” said Malcolm. “I'm a big neohero fan and I know about almost every neohero in the world. You're one of the Four Founders of the Neohero Alliance, after all.”
I vaguely recalled hearing about a neohero named Genius once, but I had never met him and didn't know much about him except that he was one of the first neoheroes. But I remembered hearing that he retired from crime-fighting, although no one knew what he was doing now due to keeping his secret identity, well, a secret.
“Well, that is quite flattering,” said Genius. “But I am afraid I am going to have to erase this little meeting of ours from your memory. This is not a good way for a new neohero to debut to the world.”
“What—” I said, before Genius pulled out a pair of dark shades and slammed them over my eyes, almost pushing me over because he hit me so hard.
Then, before anyone else could say anything, Genius raised one of his gauntlets, pressed a button on it, and a huge, blinding white flash exploded from the gauntlet. It covered the entire room, totally enveloping everyone before anyone could react. I now understood why Genius had slammed these shades on my eyes; they protected my vision, but now I was worried that everyone else would be struck blind by the explosion.
When the light faded, everyone was still staring at us, but now they looked completely dumbfounded. Their stares were blank. They almost looked like zombies. I half-expected Principal Thomas to raise his hands and start going around saying, “Brains! Brains!”
Genius lowered his gauntlet and said to the room, “You did not see Kevin Jason punch Robert Candle through the wall of the cafeteria. Instead, Robert had brought a homemade air bomb with him that accidentally exploded and sent him flying through the cafeteria wall. Kevin had nothing to do with it.”
I was no Einstein, but even I could see through that blatant lie. It wasn't even a very good lie; I mean, there weren't any remains of the air bomb, after all.
But I guess I must have been the smartest person in the school, because the students, faculty, and Principal Thomas all nodded in agreement. Principal Thomas even repeated Genius's warning word by word, as if he was practicing it.
“All right,” said Genius. He paused, and then added, “Oh, and Kevin Jason suffered from food poisoning due to your bad cafeteria food and had to go home early. He will be back in school tomorrow, so you do not need to follow up on him or call either of his parents about his whereabouts.”
“Of course,” said Principal Thomas, who sounded very absentminded. “Yes, yes, I understand. Our food really is terrible, but it's because our funding keeps getting slashed and we have to buy low quality food.”
“I don't care,” said Genius. He grabbed my arm suddenly and said, “All right, Kevin, let's go.”
Before I could ask where we were going, Genius turned a dial on his utility belt and the cafeteria vanished around me in an instant.
A second later, I found myself standing in the living room of our new house. I recognized it because there were a few boxes containing some of our unpacked belongings in one corner, in addition to the distinctive red carpet that looked old but which my Dad insisted was cool. A picture of my family—me, my Dad, and my Mom—stood on the fireplace mantle, although it was the only family picture out because we were still searching for the others, which had somehow gotten lost in the move.
But that didn't matter, because I had just been kidnapped by a legendary superhero who was supposed to be in retirement. I looked to my right and saw Genius standing there, still holding my arm, which I yanked out of his hand as soon as my senses returned to me.
“What the hell was that about?” I said, removing the shades from my eyes. I looked around the living room. “Is this really my house? Because if you kidnapped me, you did a bad job of it.”
Genius looked like he was about to talk, but then I heard some movement from the kitchen and in the next instant Mom stood in the doorway in her apron, her red hair tied back behind her head and her green eyes wide in surprise. She held a long spoon in her hand, which she seemed to have been washing before coming in here, based on the way it dripped.
“Kevin?” said Mom in surprise. “What are you doing home from school so early?”
“Um—” I said, but it was Genius who spoke.
“He punched a bully through the wall of the cafeteria and I got him out before he landed in real big trouble,” said Genius, his tone as calm as if this sort of thing happened every day.
“What?” said Mom. She looked at Genius and frowned. “What are you doing in that suit?”
Mom's tone was strange. It wasn't disapproving, exactly, but it wasn't exactly thrilled, either. It sounded almost like she already knew the answer to the question, but was asking it anyway because it was part of their routine.
“Because if I didn't, then everyone would know my secret identity,” said Genius. “Besides, I can't use most of my gadgets without the suit.”
“I thought you had put the suit away,” said Mom. “I thought you were done with superhero stuff.”
“Yes, but I had to step in just this once because if I hadn't, our son would have gotten into more trouble than teenage boys usually get into,” said Genius.
I blinked. “Wait.
son? You're not my Dad. I don't even know who you are.” I looked at Mom in horror. “Did you cheat on Dad with Genius?”
“No, no, no,” said Genius, shaking his head quickly. “I understand you're confused, so let me show you my real identity.”
Genius put his hands on his helmet and lifted his helmet off of his head. Once it was off, I could now see Genius's face. I was shocked by what I saw.
The man standing in the Genius costume had the same brown hair and blue eyes that I did. We were almost identical in appearance, except he looked older and had streaks of gray through his hair. His eyes were more piercing than mine, too, a familiar look I had grown up experiencing, like he was constantly analyzing my every move and emotion.
“Dad?” I said in pure shock. “Is that you?”
Dad nodded, although he didn't smile. “Yes. And I have a lot of explaining to do, so let's sit down on the couch and have a talk we should have had a long time ago.”
itting down on the couch with Dad was a pretty normal thing most of the time. Usually, I'd be watching sports or something else on TV, while he'd be reading a book or one of his favorite news sites on his tablet. We never talked much, but it always felt normal to me.
But when I sat down with Dad on the couch now and put my shades on my lap, it felt strange. Dad was still in his Genius costume, which I was trying to tell myself was some kind of Halloween costume and that this was all some kind of strange prank or maybe even performance art before I remembered that Dad was a total introvert and hated doing anything that would draw attention to himself if he could avoid it.
Dad, however, didn't seem uncomfortable about this. He just sat down on the right end of the couch, where he usually sat, with his Genius helmet in his lap. I half-expected him to pull out his tablet or grab a book and start reading, but he just folded his hands over his helmet and looked at me like we were about to have a normal father-son conversation.
Mom wasn't with us. She had gone back into the kitchen to 'wash dishes,' but I knew my Mom well enough to know that she was just using that as an excuse to get away from Dad. My parents loved each other, but it was clear to me that Dad had crossed some sort of line and Mom was using washing the dishes as an excuse to avoid getting into a fight with him about it.
“All right, Kevin,” said Dad. “I know this is very abrupt, but I intended to tell you about my identity as Genius at some point.”
The shock in my brain seemed to have finally faded, because I finally found the words to say, “You mean this isn't a joke?”
“Of course not,” said Dad, shaking his head. He patted the helmet on his lap. “This helmet and suit are the same helmet and suit worn by Genius during his superhero days, a one of a kind ensemble I designed for myself, although I have made a few adjustments to it over the years even after I retired from crime-fighting.”
I was still convinced that this was some kind of hallucination (maybe caused by the bad cafeteria food). “But … I don't understand. You're not a superhero. You're, well, you're just my Dad, an ordinary software developer. Right?”
Dad chuckled. “Technically, you're correct. I
a software developer, one of the best in the world, but before I did that, I was the superhero Genius.”
At this point, I was sure that maybe Dad really was pulling off some sort of elaborate and epic prank. Genius was a legendary superhero, one of the very first neoheroes that appeared thirty years ago when Haley's Comet flew by the Earth and activated the neogene in humanity. Genius had only been 11-years-old at the time—the youngest neohero in the world—but had used his super intelligence to save the world on more than one occasion and had even been one of the founding members of the Neohero Alliance. He had defeated or helped defeat villains like Nuclear Winter and Master Chaos, among others.
The only reason I knew all of that was because we had been taught about neohero history in school. Also, Dad had a lot of books about the history and science of neoheroes scattered around the house and I had read more than a few when I was a kid.
Yet there was no way that my boring, ordinary Dad was
Genius, the Genius who was friends with Omega Man, Lady Amazon, and tons of other famous neoheroes. It didn't make any sense.
“Have you been fighting crime on the side?” I said. “I mean, while I've been at school, have you been fighting crime and stuff and then getting home before dinner every day?”
Dad shook his head. “Nope. Whenever you're at school, I'm at work, except for today. I have never done any superhero antics while being your father, though I've helped more than a few of my old neohero friends with certain problems beyond their abilities since my retirement.”
“I don't get it,” I said. “Are you telling me that you retired when I was born?”
“More or less,” said Dad, nodding. “I decided that I wanted to raise you with your mother rather than spending my days fighting the various supervillains that seemed to crop up every week.”
“Mom knew?” I said in shock.
“Of course she did,” said Dad. “Well, she didn't know, at first, until we got married. I was worried that she might want a divorce after that, but she accepted it, though she never liked it.”
I looked back at the kitchen, where I heard the sink running and the clinking of dishes together. “She didn't seem very accepting of it earlier.”
Dad frowned. “Because after I retired from crime-fighting as Genius and resigned from the Neohero Alliance, I promised to her that I wouldn't wear this suit again and do superheroics. A promise I have so far kept since I retired, except for one time before this one.”
I scratched the back of my head. This revelation was seriously screwing with my sense of reality, but I didn't think I was going crazy. Dad spoke as seriously about this as he spoke about anything else, and he usually spoke very seriously about everything. I couldn't just dismiss this as a joke or hallucination anymore. I had to accept reality even if it was too weird to be true.
“So why did you retire from superhero fighting?” I said, leaning back against the couch's back. “That seems pretty cool to me. A lot cooler than being a software developer, at any rate.”
“Because being a superhero takes a lot more time and effort than you think,” said Dad. “Juggling a family, marriage, day job or business, and crime-fighting is difficult for most neoheroes. It's why the divorce rate in the neohero community is higher than the national average.”
“So you retired to settle down with Mom and raise me?” I said.
Dad nodded. “Yes. As much as I enjoyed being a superhero, raising you was far more important to me. It was hard to do, but the other members of the NHA understood and let me resign without a whole lot of fuss. I became a software developer because it keeps me out of the spotlight and lowers the chances of other people finding out my secret identity while allowing me to provide for you and your mother.”
I looked at the suit Dad wore and the helmet in his lap. “But you still kept the suit.”
Dad shrugged sheepishly. “Well, just because I'm retired doesn't mean I have to give up my suit. I put a lot of work and effort into it and there are a lot of supervillains in the world who would love to get their hands on it, if only so they could duplicate the technology I made for it.”