I considered making a sarcastic comment about how the Hardwicks have suffered, but didn’t. Still, it’s hard to make a good case for shame damaging a family that owns half the city. Well okay, maybe not half the city, but they’ve got a lot of money.
Back in the 19th century, they were lumber barons. In the 20th they’d invested their money in manufacturing cars and office furniture. In the 21st they were funding research in biotechnology from pharmaceuticals and genetic engineering to nanotechnology. Already in the 1930’s and 40’s, the Hardwicks were considered an “old money” family for the area.
Red Lightning (Giles Hardwick) had done the “rich citizen protects the city” thing starting just before World War II and then somehow ended up in the same “super soldier” unit as Captain Commando, Hotfoot (Jaclyn’s grandfather), and my grandfather.
“Alright,” I said, “let’s say that he does want to make things right. How’s he going to do it? Red Lightning’s powers only worked when he was juiced up with that stuff he made… What was it?”
“Spinach?” Jaclyn suggested, softly singing a bit of Popeye’s theme song.
“Not funny,” Cassie said.
But she’d laughed too.
“It was called the ‘Power Elixir’,” Cassie continued, talking over Jaclyn’s and my laughter. “I know it sounds stupid, but Vaughn’s not planning on using that. Vaughn’s planning on using the machine that made Red Lightning’s powers permanent. The… ‘Power Impregnator’.”
She stopped and looked at us warily.
We weren’t laughing.
The moment Red Lightning managed to make his powers permanent is the moment a lot of things began to go wrong for the Heroes League. I wasn’t around for it. I wouldn’t be born for more than twenty years, but I had heard a few things from my grandfather.
When I asked him directly, he would only say, “I don’t like to talk about it.”
From comments he made while I was growing up though, I’ve got a general picture of the events leading to Red Lightning’s death. When my grandfather and Red Lightning finished the Power Impregnator, it freed Giles (Red Lightning) from carrying vials of liquid that always seemed to break at the worst moment. Giles had been growing distant from the team for the a couple years before that, but afterward (at least for a little while), it was like it had been during the war—a bunch of guys standing up to whatever the world could throw at them.
I’m not sure of the details, but within a few years superpowered gangs began to appear—well organized gangs that were unnervingly capable of not only avoiding, but also predicting the Heroes League’s every move. It had to be an inside job. Suspicion fell on everyone in turn, but the Mentalist, Daniel’s grandfather, discovered that the gangs had gained their abilities by ingesting an addictive drug similar to the Power Elixir.
After that, it turned into all out war between Red Lightning and the League—a war the League won, but not easily.
“So,” I asked Cassie, “where is the Power Impregnator these days?”
“I don’t know. I guessed it must be in storage or, maybe… Red Lightning’s lab?”
I shrugged, adding, “I’ve got no idea where that would be.”
Strictly speaking, that answer wasn’t even a lie—I really didn’t know where Red Lightning’s lab had been. The comically named “Power Impregnator,” however? That was in a cardboard box about 30 feet away, sitting in the corner of the main room next to twenty other boxes of memorabilia.
I’d never been so grateful not to have Daniel around.
“Nick,” Cassie said, “would you just talk to Vaughn tomorrow?”
“Sure,” I said.
Remembering the letter in my hand, I finished opening the envelope and scanned the letter’s contents. “Hey,” I said, “get this, someone wants to sell us life insurance.”
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Bio: Jim Zoetewey grew up in Holland, Michigan, near where L Frank Baum wrote The Wizard of Oz and other books in that series. Admittedly, Baum moved away more than sixty years before Jim was even born, but it's still kind of cool. Jim didn't attain his goal of never leaving school, but did prolong his stay as long as possible. He majored in religion and sociology at Hope College, gaining enough credits to obtain minors in ancient civilizations and creative writing—had he thought to submit applications to the relevant departments. He attended Western Theological Seminary for two years. He followed that up by getting a masters degree in sociology at Western Michigan University. Once out of school, he took up the most logical occupation for someone with his educational background: web developer and technical support. Simultaneously, he finished all but three credits of a masters in Information Systems, a degree that's actually relevant to his field. He's still not done. In the meantime, he's been writing stories about superheroes and posting them online at http://legionofnothing.com. He's still not sure whether that was a good idea, but continues to do it anyway. He's also not sure why he's writing this in the third person, but he's never seen an author bio written in first person and doesn't want to rock the boat.