Chapter 2, 17: Histories
Chris screwed his butt into his chair a little more tightly as El Professore examined the page in his hand, apparently oblivious to the student who had just walked into his underground office in the level below Mr. Brown’s shop.
At last he looked up. “So, Chris. Fighting in school.”
“That kid was bullying Snowball! It was five on one.”
“Michael,” El Professore corrected. “Bullying. Of course. There was a bullying incident going on right outside a faculty member’s office, and that’s why you bolted out of the office and got involved, instead of letting the faculty member handle it.”
“’I feel good about myself when others are happy with me.’ Yes or no?’
Chris was about to answer ‘yes,’ when his father’s training kicked in. That sounded like a personality test, and the more ‘me’ words in the question, the more likely that it was a red flag, depending on where they were in the sentence, counting from both ends, and you got …six, where red flags were 8 or more… And as he came to that conclusion, he focussed on El Professore again. The hard brown eyes behind the mask were waiting for him to speak, and the “yes” came out of his mouth like an admission of guilt.
“Your uncle said you would pass, Chris.”
“Unlike Dr. Cambridge, I’m pretty good at reading lips. You were about to give the right answer before you started using your little cheat. Where did you learn it, anyway?”
Chris sat mutely.
“You father, I see. Well, your father wouldn’t pass one of the modern tests, even with his cheats. It’s a measure of just how bad he was at this sort of thing that he thought that his children wouldn’t either.”
Chris had to answer that. “He just wanted us to stay out of trouble.”
“Best done by staying out of trouble in the first place. Answer the questions instead of worrying about faking the results. Call the teacher who is right next to you instead of attacking a fellow student. Even when you see bullying.”
“I didn’t attack him. I just swept his leg.”
“Leading to a near brawl with five kids that you would have won easily if four of them weren’t a lot tougher than you expected.” El Professore stood up and walked over to the door to his danger room, gesturing Chris to follow. Chris walked in after his teacher. The room was set to its default gym mode.
“You’ve been in a lot of fights on the last month, for a Grade 10. I understand that you’ve got a reputation for unloading on your friends.”
“I empty my mind in combat and follow my reflexes. It’s not dangerous if you know how to fight. May and Jameel can take it.
“Tell me about this Morning Glory girl.”
Chris flushed. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, sir.”
“You keep trying to knock your cousin’s block off, but you can’t seem to land a punch on a criminal that we really need to capture.”
“She’s a girl!” Chris started protested.
“So’s your cousin,” El Professore answered.
“I can’t,” Chris stated, then began again, “I mean. . .”
“It’s okay that you can’t make yourself punch Morning Glory,” El Professore said, “Even if it is a reflex that we need to train out of you. That’s not my point.” El Professore held up his hand like you do when you’re about to count off a point. Then, somehow, the hand turned into a blurring fist headed straight for Chris’ head. He barely managed to dodge in time, going straight over El Professore’s leg.
Chris hit the padding, anger at the sudden attack filing him. He slapped the pad hard in his breakfall and came bouncing back up. Unfortunately, he did so right into the diving El Professore, who grabbed him shoulder and groin and hoisted Chris easily above his shoulders. It seemed like an easy grip, but Cjhris couldn’t break it for the life of him.
“You’re angry, young Wong,” El Professore said, looking up at Chris’ dangling face.
“And you have a lot of movies to watch. Chris, what I’m saying is that you have a lot of anger issues. You’re lashing out because you’re angry, not because you’re a perfect Zen warrior. In fact, your anger is getting in your way, just like your attraction to Morning Glory. Are we ready to talk about just what you’re angry about?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, sir.”
“I’ll take that as a ‘no,’ then.” El Professore put Chris down gently. “Please take this little beatdown as an object lesson. You and your classmates have to fight for your lives and the lives of everyone on this planet. It would be good for all of us if you could get over your anger.”
Chris looked at El Professore, silently. “In the mean time, I have to sort out what I’m going to do about you and Mario.”
“I was just…”
“Of course you were. Dr. Cambridge wants you expelled. Zero tolerance and all that. Unfortunately for her, Tatammy doesn’t have zero tolerance policies. We’re backwards that way. Instead, we’re putting a written warning in your permanent records. There will also be some action with respect to inviting felons on campus, but you’re clear on that, so no more need be said.”
“Yes, sir.” Chris tried to stay angry at El Professor, but couldn’t. Somehow, a written warning, permanent record or not, didn’t really seem real.
“And you could try a little harder on Dr. Cambridge’s tests.”
“Why? Even when I pass, she just thinks I’m cheating!”
“I will speak to her about that. In the mean time, you’re going to be late for your math class, and I always get into trouble with my boss when students are late for one of his classes.”
Fortunately, Principal Guzman wasn’t in class when Chris slipped into the vacant desk between Savannah and Tyrell, with the long gap, because Tyrell insisted on sitting closer to the board. Chris busied himself pulling his book and paper (you couldn’t use your tablets in regular classes) out of his bag, distracted by the faint tickle of the smell from a discarded teabag over in the wastebasket at the corner of the room.
Chris opened up the textbook. A heart had been drawn in the inside cover in a girl’s hand. Two whiteouts marked the names, but the cross was still vulnerable. For some reason, the letters looked like “M. G.” and “C. W.” to him for a moment. Then Savannah prodded him from behind.
Chris looked back. Savannah was holding out a note to him. “Pass this.” It had Tyrell’s name on it, with a little heart. “And don’t you dare look at it.”
Chris scanned the back of the room quickly. Eve and Babs both seemed to be looking at him. Eve was smirking, and Babs had a stricken look on her face. He looked ahead. Tyrell’s head was cocked, as though he knew that something was going on, but didn’t dare look back to find out just what.
Chris pretended to drop his books between his feet, and bent down until he could see up through the gap at an angle where he could just barely see both girls’ reaction. He took the note and tore it up. Eve frowned, and Babs seemed relieved.
And that was how Chris came to be bent over with his head between his legs when Principal Guzman walked into the room Principal Guzman asked, complete with melodramatic pause, “Is everyone ready for some …trigonometry?” Chris couldn't believe that a teacher wouldn't make a crack something like that.
Late that afternoon, Chris was sitting in the rec room in the east wing of the McNeely mansion, watching DVR’d Adult Swim with the gang. He’d already called his uncle, who was going to look at family records for him, and was trying to focus on the show, and not the way that Eve was bending over to read the newspaper, which was laid out on the floor under her chair. Her bright sort-of-green blouse kept riding up.
Then Dr. McNeely walked in. Babs killed the sound with a very emphatic jab at the button.
Charlotte put her fingers in her mouth and whistled over the babble. “Hi, Charlotte. Go ahead.”
“Why didn’t anyone tell us that Mr. McNeely was engaged to my aunt?”
“I can’t speak for everyone, but I didn’t know. I knew that my father lost his first girlfriend to a crime. In fact, that’s the reason he usually gave for becoming the Hobgoblin. But he never told who it was, and I never asked. He never even said that they’d been engaged. Have you spoken to your uncle?”
“No,” Charlotte said. “But my brother has.”
“They didn’t know, either. Bear in mind that my uncle was born ten years after my aunt died.”
“No-one ever talked about it to him?”
“Not to tell him that the fiancé was Mr. McNeely.”
“Hmm. But that could have just been to keep the McNeely-Hobgoblin connection secret. Everyone knew that your grandfather taught the Hobgoblin kung-fu.”
Babs held up her hand. “Is it true that the McNeely knack comes from a super-soldier serum?”
“Hmm. That’s complicated. The McNeely knack is a real thing, and it is hereditary. I’ve never been able to find a DNA explanation for it, so it could be some weird extra-genetic inheritance factor. And you would expect non-genetic transmission through the mother.”
“Could Mr. McNeely’s wives have received the super-soldier serum?” Tyrell asked.
“Wife. I don’t know anything about my mother except what Denny O’Neill invented for the Batman comic books about her being the daughter of an immortal master of assassins. But it is true that Todd’s mother was a former supervillain, and the super-soldier serum thing would explain how she was able to keep up with my father. But the timing’s all wrong.”
“When would the timing be right?” Savannah asked. “My grand-dad became the Kobold in 1951, and he always said that the McNeely knack was pretty obvious to him. McNeely’s are good at everything. Even Mr. McNeely, who’s a screw-up.”
“Please try not to talk about my brother that way, Savannah. The exact details are classified, but the McNeely Clinic started working on the super-soldier project just before the beginning of the war.”
Chris rolled his eyes. Americans sometimes remember that the war actually started in 1939. So Dr. McNeely could mean any time between 1938 and 1941. He would have to ask, but not right now.
Dr. McNeely continued. “I have most of my great-uncle’s notes, and I’ve done my best to reconstruct his research. He was convinced that the McNeely knack was a real, biological thing, and he was trying to reproduce it. And he thought he’d succeeded. Codename Achilles came out of McNeely labs.”
“One of the two American wartime super soldier projects that worked.”
“So, do you have those notes, sir?” Chris asked.
“No. They’re classified.”
“But they have nothing to do with DNA?” Babs prodded.
“Not exactly,” Dr. McNeely said, and then, with a hasty glance at his niece, “You and everyone in your generation is a plain old normal human being by every DNA test I have at hand. But there’s still a lot to learn about the second-order effects in the way that DNA establishes heritability. All I can do is look at big sequences in your DNA and see that they’re like DNA in other people. Lots of other people have super powers that you can’t see in their DNA.”
“Codename Achilles was the superhero who died in the raid on Turin in 1945, right? Do we know who he w was, Dr. McNeely?” Chris asked. Chris’ great uncle Springett had died in the Italian theatre in 1945 while fighting with the Special Service Force. In a comic book, he would turn out to have been Achilles.
“And that’s even more heavily classified, Chris. Fortunately, I have the clearance, and I had a friend in Washington email me the PDF earlier. And ….Oh, shit.”
“Springett Dawson?” Chris asked.
“Springett Dawson indeed.”
Chris’ phone rang. It was his uncle calling to tell him that Tom McNeely had met his aunt while doing a scientific study for his uncle in the spring of 1934. He’d been taking blood samples from people with Okanagan Indian ancestors, and it had been extremely confidential, which is how he got Springett and Elizabeth to contribute. Race, his uncle explained, was a huge deal in the 1930s. People didn’t like admitting that they had Indian ancestors, and his uncle was frankly amazed that a “society man” from Philadelphia would propose to a Chinese-American girl from Oroville.
Rose’s face turned thoughtful as Chris explained. “That’s a lot of connection between two of the most important genetic reservoirs of Apocalypse Plague resistance.”
“There are others?’ Dr. McNeely asked.
“Oh, sure,” Rose said. “For example, I’m supposed to look at clusters amongst Formula One racing fans and American servicewomen, because the fathers seem to have had resistant DNA strands on both chromosomes, and we’ve never observed that in our genetic tests, even with Okanagans, who have longitudinal resistance over many generations.”
“Wow,” Dr. McNeely said. “That explains a lot.”
“Explains what?” Babs asked.
“I can’t say. If my theory is right, this is a secret I’m not cleared to discuss.”
“Can you tell us who to ask?”
“I would suggest finding out how your friend, Eve, here, got to the 21st Century. Now, really, no more questions. I’ve got things to do,” said Dr. McNeely, as he hurried out of the room.
As soon as he left, there was a distinct thud from the pool table. Chris looked over, startled. Bruce McNeely lay on the floor under the table, spread-eagled. As Chris stared, the young McNeely rolled out and bounced up.
“Thank God,” he said, shaking himself like a cat. “I couldn’t have held on one more second. I can’t believe I got away with eavesdropping on my uncle. And I’m from a Wold-Newton family.”
“A what? You little sneak?” Babs asked.
Tyrell answered. “It’s this thing in fiction where all the old pulp heroes like Tarzan and Sherlock Holmes and Doc Savage and everyone are all descended from a bunch of people who were irradiated by a comet in the 1700s.”
Bruce nodded eagerly. “No wonder no-one could replicate Project Achilles. They weren’t looking for the right families! I bet you that there’s a soldier and a racecar driver out there, and I bet you that Uncle is about to call them and tell them to keep it in their pants!”
“I ought to wash your mouth out with soap, bro,” Babs said.
“For saying ‘Keep it in your pants?’” Bruce asked, unbelievingly.
“For talking about it in front of girls in your class, loser. Do you want them to think you’re a creep?”
“No worries,” Rose said. “We were going with doofus. Except Dora. She thinks he’s a cueball.”
“Hunh?” Babs said.
“Cute But A Loser. She’s trying to make it catch on.”
“It’s a song lyric,” Charlotte explained. “More or less.”
“It’s stupid,” Bruce protested. “Anyway, sis,” Bruce protested. “Don’t you see, if whatever the McNeely knack is about isn’t a straight-up DNA thing. You don’t have to be some weirdo gene splice to have inherited cat powers from your Grandma!”
“Damn!” Chris said. “I forgot to ask your uncle about my sword!”
Babs looked over at Eve. “So how did you get to the 21st Century, Eve? And when are you going back?”
Billy spoke, for the first time. “We need to talk to the Sentinels.”
“And we need to find out how Eve got exposed to the Apocalypse Plague,” Bruce added, in a high, boyish voice.
Billy shook his head. “’We.’ I do not think that word means what you think it means. You’re too young for this. Charlotte, too.”
“What? I can help the investigation. I’m a junior detective!”
“So am I, bro,” Babs said.
“Well, start acting like it, Sister Stu—
Babs vaulted her chair and dropped a headlock on her brother. Strategy session over, Chris figured, as he went to Bruce’s defence and ended up tangled In his sister. “Keep it down in there or take it down to the swimming pool,” Dr. McNeely roared. “I’m trying to make a phone call!”
But as they filed out of the room, Chris couldn’t help noticing that Dr. McNeely was grinning so wide that you could see it on either side of the old-fashioned telephone receiver he was speaking into. With his keen hearing, Chris could hear him whisper, ”You’ve got to be more careful with the groupies.”
“I’m a little lost, here.” Billy said.
“Must . . . resist . . .. straight…” Savannah interrupted.
“Shut up, Multi-girl. Why is finding out who brought Rose to the 21st century the next step?” Billy continued.
Bruce answered over his shoulder as he, Charlotte, and Rose headed towards the west wing, instead. “Because whoever did it is a member of your Wold-Newton family who knows the story!”