by Dan Swanson
Something was making John Garrick uneasy. “Henrietta, you are going to be putting us back in our own bodies, right?”
Henrietta King smiled seductively. “I have… plans for you first, John, but eventually, yes, we both go back to our old selves — with some new memories and something to look forward to when we come back again.”
There, that was it. “What will happen to these bodies when we leave? Will they just lie around in some kind of trance or something?”
Henrietta was startled. “Why, I don’t know, John. I hadn’t thought about it. Hold on…” John could almost hear her brain whirring at high speed. Then her expression changed — her eyes widened, and she looked very solemn, and then, to his astonishment, she started crying.
He pulled her close, and she sobbed against his shoulder for a minute or so. Finally, her crying subsided, and she was just sobbing every couple of seconds. He had not dared talk to her while she was crying — he had no idea what was wrong and had no idea what to say. But it seemed as if holding her and staying quiet had been the best answer, even though it tore at his heart to see her cry.
“So, what’s the matter…?” he stopped abruptly. He wanted to call her something other than Henrietta, some kind of pet name, but he didn’t know what she answered to. Hen and Etta seemed somehow disrespectful.
“Oh, John, I’ve done a terrible thing! You might not know, but I had a terrible childhood.” In fact, he did know, but now didn’t seem like the right time to tell her he had spied on her during childhood using his time-viewer. “I interrupted Mama’s career, and she never wanted a baby, and she hated me, but she kept me around because she didn’t want to spoil her image, and sometimes the men she was seeing would bring me gifts that she could trade for drugs, and she used to lock me in a closet to keep me away when her boyfriends would come over, and… and… oh, I just hate to even remember it.”
Once again, he realized the best thing he could do was just hug her, and he did. She sobbed a little, but she seemed to be over the worst of her crying.
“As bad as I’ve turned out…” she continued; he shook his head, and she pulled back and looked him in the eye. “Stop it, John — you know the truth. I’m a super-villain, and you know it. And I did it on purpose, to get revenge on my mama and the world! And I’m not going to give it up, either, even for you! But as bad as I’ve been, even after everything I’ve done, I’ve never hurt a child. And I always vowed I never would.”
John Garrick was at a loss for words. What could he say now that wouldn’t sound fatuous? Several possibilities came to mind. “You don’t have to be a villain, you know?” Of course she knew — she’d just admitted she did it deliberately. “That’s very noble of you.” Hell, if she was really noble, she’d give up being a villainess and become a hero. “It’s OK.” Bull — it wasn’t OK. “We can worry about it later.” It was already too late for that; he’d had his chance five minutes ago — a chance a lot of guys wouldn’t have passed up, but he had. He wondered if he would regret that decision for the rest of his life.
Since he couldn’t think of anything useful to say, and saying nothing seemed to be working, he continued to say nothing. And once again she kept speaking.
“When we leave these bodies, John, they are going to continue their own lives — but they will have our memories. I promised never to hurt any kids, but I’ve just brought to life a new kid — the one I used to be, and the one this body will remember being, who suffered the same things I suffered. I just created a kid who has felt every pain and torment I’ve ever felt. And it’s going to be even worse for her — she’ll know that she was never real until I made her, and that all the good things I remember, that I’ve made for myself, she’ll never have a chance at. She’ll remember that she is smaller than an ant — that she’s so tiny she would be totally insignificant to a real human. That she lives in a frigging bottle, for God’s sake!” She couldn’t go on, and she broke down into sobs.
John had earlier had an inkling of some of this when he’d scolded her for playing God, but he hadn’t any idea of the full dimensions of her folly. And he realized just how terrible life would be for the John he left behind when he left the bottle — a young man who remembered growing up in a loving family surrounded by wonderful friends, a life populated by heroes and fueled by promise — a life he could never return to. This place wasn’t a fantasy, it was a nightmare. Suddenly, he was close to crying himself as he realized the horror that they had unwittingly created — for two living beings who would soon believe that they were Henrietta King and John Garrick, but who would never be able to live their own lives.
Henrietta felt the change in his body — the warm confidence of his embrace replaced by slack muscles as horror struck him. She pulled her head back and looked at him, and in a voice totally devoid of emotion, asked him desperately, “My God, John, what have I done?”
John was thinking hard. Even without his powers, he was supposed to be a genius, wasn’t he? What good was being a genius if he couldn’t solve the tough problems? He had a glimmer of an idea when he realized he was thinking at super-speed. Maybe he did have the rest of his powers in this body as well, and they had just taken a couple of hours to manifest. He zoomed away down the length of the gigantic hangar, except that he almost immediately fell headlong, as his body wouldn’t move nearly as fast as his mind commanded it to.
There must be a mental aspect of my powers, he mused to himself, that is decoupled from the physical aspect, and which moved with me when I was transferred into this mind and body. He thought a while longer and then deliberately slowed down his thoughts.
Henrietta was just now reaching down to help him to his feet. He grabbed her hand and pulled himself up. “Henrietta, I want to try an experiment. Would you do me a favor and try to hit me?”
She had been on the point of being angry, anyway. Did John realize the opportunity that he had just turned down? She didn’t come on to just anybody. Well, wait, actually she did, didn’t she? But that was all a meaningless revenge game — this was real. When John offered her the opportunity, she took it and swung at him without any warning. He easily dodged, which made her more angry, so she swung again — and once again he easily dodged.
Savant wasn’t some slow, feeble weakling, especially in this body, and she was intrigued enough to forget her anger. “You have your powers back! How did you do that?” John waited warily for a second, then responded.
“Not really,” said Whiz Kid. “I’m not moving much faster than you are. But I am reacting much more quickly. Somehow, I can speed up my thoughts, which speeds up my reactions. Your punches seem to be in super-slow-motion to me, and I react instantly, so even with a just a little above-normal speed, I can dodge pretty well.”
He paused for a second or two for thought. “If you had your powers, could you erase our memories from these minds? You said that you had already programmed false memories into all the minds in Candor, so you would be just returning them to their earlier state.”
“If I had my powers, I probably could. At least, our memories would seem to be no more than daydreams. And they would still have our personalities — I designed them to be a close match, and the longer we inhabit these bodies, the more the brain will adjust. But that’s OK, isn’t it?”
She looked so vulnerable when she asked this that he had to hug her again. “Of course it’s OK!”
Reassured, she continued. “I would have to set the transfer machine on a timer and wipe the memories of being us from them just before we vanish back to our own bodies. And I’ll have to give them some other memories to replace ours and explain what they are doing here in this hangar. But, John, I don’t have my powers in this body.”
John smiled at her. “I think you do. Your powers are mental, and they are actually tied to your mind — and your machine transferred the essence of your mind into that body. We both retained our genius, and I just discovered that I was thinking at super-speed. If the mental aspect of my powers was transferred, your mental powers must have been transferred as well!” John wasn’t as absolutely certain as he was trying to sound, but if he couldn’t convince her, the rest of his plan wouldn’t work, either. “Try to use your powers.”
She was uncertain, but it couldn’t hurt to try. “OK, we’ll start with something simple.” She tore a strip of cloth from her already-short skirt and handed it to him. “Blindfold me.” He did, although he was having a hard time concentrating. She sure had great legs.
“OK, now jump away far enough so I can’t hear you. Then move around, and I will turn to keep pointing at you. Sensing people nearby was the first manifestation of my powers when I was young.”
He jumped about a quarter-mile away, and then jumped again and again in other directions. By now he had circled about a third of the way around her. She was turning slowly, her arms outstretched, palms out — and she was turning the wrong way. She went through a half-circle and hesitated.
“It’s not working, John!” she called to him. He didn’t say anything, and she kept turning. “Hold on! Why, you rascal!” There was joy in her voice, and she turned to face him. “There you are! Just try to hide now!” She dropped one arm, but the other was pointing directly at him. He moved — running, jumping, and hanging from some pipes near the ceiling — and she was unerring. Shortly, she tired of the game. “OK, that works. Come back in now!”
She took the blindfold off as he approached. “Why, thank you, John! You actually have pretty great legs yourself!”
He blushed. It was the first time that he knew of that she’d actually used her powers on him. She caught that thought, too. “I’m sorry, dear. Now that I know my powers are back, I promise I won’t invade your privacy again. This is great, John. You just saved Other Savant from years of pain!” She stepped closer and gave him another big hug. With his super-enhanced reflexes, he could easily have avoided her, but he didn’t want to.
Whiz Kid also didn’t want to get sidetracked again, and he knew he might if they continued to celebrate the partial return of their powers. So he moved away. “What should I call you? Is there some other name you prefer? Henrietta is such a mouthful.”
He immediately regretted his choice of words, but she smiled and winked at him. “Dolly calls me Hank, but she only does it to irritate me, because it’s my half-brother’s name. You could call me honey if you want. But never ever call me Hen or Etta!” There were daggers in her voice, so he resolved to stay away from those pet names.
“OK, Henrietta it is, honey!” They both smiled at that. “So you said you had a background story for Candor. What is it?”
“Ah, I was hoping you would ask. I’m rather proud of my history. Have a seat while I show you… The Illustrated History of Candor.”
She led him to a bank of control panels that included several computer monitors. A few quick keystrokes on a keyboard, and a video began to play. John suddenly realized with a start that the video was not in English, and that he and Henrietta weren’t talking English, either.
“Darn, John, I lost the bet with myself — I have thought you’d have figured it out an hour ago.” At the look of anger on his face, she hastily added, “Nope, not reading your mind; just simple logic.”
One of the control stations was actually some kind of auto-chef. Savant dialed up popcorn, and they sat back to watch some historical fiction.