by Dan Swanson
Back at their dorm, Todd Drake hit the sack immediately and assumed that Tomas Thomas would do the same. However, as soon as he could hear snores coming from Todd’s room, Tomas went back out into the small common room they shared, carrying his tool kit. In a few minutes he had disassembled the smaller gravity helmet, the one Todd had worn as Bulletboy. Todd had left it in Tomas’ hospital room, so Tomas assumed it was supposed to be his, especially since Todd now had a new one that fit correctly.
He worked very carefully, and sketched as he worked. About the time it started getting light outside, he had a pretty complete schematic of the two different functional units in the helmet: the gravity regulator and the magnetic controller. He had never been a whiz with electronics before, but now, when he could instantly recall anything he had ever read, he realized he was developing a much better understanding. He didn’t feel any smarter, per se, but if he was trying to solve a problem, and there were, anywhere in his memories, the information he needed to address that problem, he had instant access to those memories.
The problems he now encountered came when he had information from more than one source, and the information conflicted — he had to stop and work out which was right and which was wrong. This happened several times, and slowed him down considerably, but he realized he was still working much more quickly than he had been able to before.
He did discover that once he had mentally accepted a certain piece of information as being correct and conflicting information as being false, the next time he needed that information, only the correct information was recalled, unless he deliberately tried to recall the false information as well. He realized this could be a great tool for him, but it also had the potential to narrow his thinking. He would have to be very sure before he mentally labeled something as false.
The gravity helmet was a study in contrasts. The physics it made use of were advanced beyond Tomas’ level of understanding, but the circuitry that implemented the physics was built using the technology available in 1944, which was practically ancient history by now. Through the sponsorship of their seminar, he and Todd had access to cutting edge electronics, and they had often designed and built their equipment right on this table. Tomas realized he could replace some of the older style valves (vacuum tubes) and relays with transistors without changing the functionality at all.
He was so tired he had to fight to keep his eyes open, but something was driving him to finish his work. He drank several cups of coffee. He was surprised when he looked up and saw Todd watching him.
“Hey, I thought I was supposed to be the electronics wizard! That’s some pretty complex stuff, there! What are you doing, anyway?”
“You’re still the whiz kid, buddy. That drug did something to my memory, and if there is something I need to know, and I’ve read or heard anything about it, that information seems to automatically pop up where I can use it. But I don’t seem to be any more creative than I used to be. If I don’t already know something, I’m not any better at figuring it out than I used to be. All I’ve been doing is updating the old circuits to use transistors.
“It seems to me that it wouldn’t be too difficult to enhance these circuits here and here–” He pointed at the schematic. “–to improve the magnetic controls. But it would take me several hours to figure those enhancements out, and for some reason, I don’t think I have the time.”
Todd looked at the areas Tomas indicated. By the standards of today, those designs were pretty crude. Todd felt sure he could improve on them fairly easily, but he was going to need some source books that they had left at the lab. When he mentioned going to get them, Tomas suggested that Todd just ask him for whatever information he needed. If Tomas had looked at the correct pages, he would be able to remind Todd of what they said.
As Tomas finished his update of the rest of the circuits, Todd redesigned the areas Tomas had indicated. Several times he had to stop and ask for transistor specifications and parameters from Tomas, who ended up drawing several graphs and well as regurgitating a lot of information that he hadn’t understood the first time through.
Finally, Todd’s design was finished. He and Tomas rebuilt the last two sections according to Todd’s new design. Tomas had built the two controllers into two separate disks each about a half-inch thick and six inches in diameter. He attached these to a belt so that one disk lay on either hip. A small power pack was planted in the middle of his back, connected by wires to the disks.
Tomas grinned at Todd. “Now for the smoke test! Hope it fails!” This was a standard joke between the two of them — a smoke test was successful if there was smoke. He lifted slightly off the floor and remained, hovering. “Yee-hah!”
Suddenly, there came the sounds of feet tromping down the hall and raised voices, claiming to be the police, telling students to stay in their suites. Tomas ducked into his room and shut the door, just as somebody started pounding on the front door to their suite.
“Open up! This is the police!” Todd looked around. The tools were still on the table, along with some test equipment; he ducked into his room and came back with a partially completed electronic something or other and placed it on the table. Through force of long-standing habit, he had stashed his Red Rocket gear in a secret hiding spot before he turned in — behind a loose brick in the shower down the hall.
“I’m coming, I’m coming!” he yelled. The pounding stopped, but someone yelled through the door to hurry it up.
When he opened the door, four police officers pushed their way into the room. They were city police, not campus police, and they were accompanied by two campus policemen who were apparently trying to calm them down, but not succeeding.
Todd was angry, and he let it show. “What’s going on? Why do you think you can–?” That was as far as he got.
“Shut up, kid. Your roommate was kidnapped last night from the hospital, and the doctor that reported it says it was you what took him! So you just keep your yap shut while we look around!”
“Kidnapped? C’mon, he was too sick to even get out of bed. I would have had to carry him. And what would I do with him? He was going to die in less than a few days. Why would I take my best friend away from the best care he could get?”
“Shaddup! Say, you don’t mind if we look around, do ya?” The four spread out to search, one going into each bedroom. They didn’t wait for his answer. “Thanks!”
A few minutes later, the four cops gathered once again in the common room of the two-bedroom suite. “Nobody here but the joker, Sarge. The big guy’s bed ain’t been used. Checked out the window, too; no fire escape in that room. And no way to climb up or down. The guy ain’t here!” One of the campus policemen went back into the hall to radio what was going on. The Chicago city cops were clearly annoyed about this, but they couldn’t do anything about it — the school and the city had an agreement about which police force could do what on campus, and they were already exceeding the limits in the agreement. The University of Chicago was a pretty powerful political force in the city, and the mayor was a U.C. grad. Any further provocation from them, and they might find themselves looking for work. But they weren’t about to leave without the last word.
“All right, kid, looks like you’re clean this time. But we’ll be watchin’ ya!” The four left the room and clumped back down the corridor, swearing at any students who stuck their heads out to watch.
The older of the campus cops turned to Todd. “Sorry, son. Sometimes there’s nothing we can do to keep them out of here. Look, your roommate disappeared from the hospital last night. From what they tell me of his condition, without medical treatment, he has probably died by now. I know this is rough on you; sorry we couldn’t keep them out of it.”
Todd reached out to shake the officer’s hand. “Thanks, Lieutenant! I appreciate you trying to protect me. I know you guys are underappreciated.”
“And underpaid!” the other officer interjected. They all smiled, and then the campus cops left, too. Todd sat down at the table and started studying Tomas’ schematics. A few minutes later, Tomas walked into the common room from his room.
“Well, the flying part still works!” he said with a grin as he slapped Todd on the back. “Who would’a thunk that somebody would kidnap a terminally ill radiation patient? I guess they have to explain my going missing somehow!”
Todd was uncomfortable with the whole situation. He had to admit that Tomas and Jim had called it right. Tomas’ recovery really had caused a brouhaha. He realized they couldn’t tell people the whole story, but he was also very uncomfortable about being in conflict with the police. Yet he didn’t see any way to clear it up right then.
Picking up the phone, Todd called Jim and Sue Barr at their hotel. The hotel had a Sunday all-you-can-eat brunch buffet, so the four decided to meet for breakfast.
There was a crowd of other residents of the dorm in the hall outside their door. Tomas didn’t want to walk through that crowd — even though they were all his friends, some of them would probably tell the campus police where he was. He didn’t like this secrets game. But until he and Todd could come up with a story, he was going to have to try to avoid people he knew.
As Todd left the room, everyone crowded around him, demanding to know what was going on. He told them the same story the police had told him, that Tomas was missing from the hospital, and they somehow thought he was involved. It took him a good twenty minutes before his friends would let him go, and the crowd around him continued to grow. Tomas slipped out the window and hoped nobody would see him. Eventually they joined up again at the hotel, which was on the north side of the city, miles from the university. A hearty breakfast was had by all, and with the help of the Barrs, they were able to come up with a pretty convincing cover story.
Shortly after World War II, John and Amitola Thomas had been assigned to Paris for six months to help set up diplomatic relations between the United States and the new provisional government of France led by General Charles de Gaulle. The Marie Curie Museum in Paris was a wonderful treat for Tomas, who had spent a lot of time there, studying the exhibits and even helping to catalog some of her personal papers. He had to learn to read Polish, but he was a quick study.
It seemed quite possible that he had read a formula of some kind that didn’t mean anything at the time, but that he might have recalled recently, his subconscious returning it to the surface in an attempt to save his life. He could have passed the formulation on to Todd, who mixed up a batch for him. And then, when it worked, the two had been (rightly, as it turned out) paranoid about getting Tomas out of the hospital.
The only problem was the formula itself. Todd would certainly have written it down, and almost certainly would not have thrown away his notes. And any formula they came up with had to be plausible, at least, because it would be scrutinized heavily as soon as they revealed it.
Fortunately, Jim was a genius in chemistry. He engaged his super-intellect for several minutes. “Other than the anti-crime drug, I can’t quickly formulate a cure for radiation sickness,” he told them. “But we may not really need a cure, just an approximation. And I’ve got that.”
Todd and Jim headed for the Atomic Building and used Todd’s master key to get access to one of the chemical storerooms. Todd gathered together the chemicals, lab equipment, and other things Jim told him they would need. He carried them all into an empty lab, where he wrote down the formula Jim gave him, and started mixing it together.
He made notes every step of the way. There were some steps he didn’t understand, but Jim had him gather various reference books and open them to the correct pages, then gave him step-by-step instructions, which he again wrote down. When he was finished, the lab looked as if a very intelligent amateur chemist had used a bunch of reference books to develop a fairly simple procedure to create a fairly complex compound, and that this compound would be very useful in treating radiation sickness. Leaving the books and apparatus, they took the notes and the compound, which was in a liquid form, and flew back to join Sue and Tomas.
“It’s not a cure, but it is a useful medicine.” Jim explained the rest of his plan. “Here’s what should happen next. You two go to the airport and meet Tomas’ folks. There may be police looking for Tomas, but I doubt if they will bother the son of the top ambassador in the State Department. You may have to give the police the cover story, then you guys should all go to the hospital to complain to the director about the bogus kidnapping charge. Show him the signed release, if you need to.
“He’ll want some assurances that Tomas is well and that the hospital won’t be sued. Arrange a deal with him — give him the formula and the notes in exchange for the university and the hospital leaving Tomas alone. Get it in writing! Todd, you can tell him your suspicion that some mystical power is involved and point out the many coincidences you noted. Mystical powers have interfered in human affairs often enough that, though unlikely, it still can’t be discounted out of hand.
“The hospital can announce that they have uncovered a secret formula developed by Madame Curie, and they’ll get lots of good publicity, and another story will be added to her legend. If they never uncover the formula in her papers, everyone will just assume it got lost in the last few years. Tomas, you may be sort of a celebrity for the next few days, but it will die down.”
“So what do we do with this?” Todd held up the beaker.
“Drink it?” Jim suggested. Everyone laughed. “Don’t laugh!” he quickly responded. “While this stuff wouldn’t have actually cured Tomas, I predict it will almost immediately become part of the standard treatment for radiation overdose! Everything in it was selected to help a human body recover from radiation — there are a variety of electrolytes, a moderate pain reliever, chemicals to stimulate the healing process, anti-inflammatory agents, and a variety of vitamins, nutrients, and proteins that a body would need in order to restore damaged tissues.”
Those around him still looked dubious. Jim was a little peeved that nobody appeared to believe him, so he took the beaker from Todd and knocked it back, drinking the whole thing in three big gulps. “After all, I am a chemistry genius!” he said, a little annoyance showing in his tone.
He quickly opened the refrigerator and pulled out a soda. “Why do things that are good for you always taste so awful?”
Sue smiled at him sweetly. “It’s because they are usually created by men, dear! It’s part of the male psyche, I think. Men seem to feel that if something is easy, it must be wrong.” She and Jim had had this argument before, and he didn’t really want to continue it now.
Tomas was a little uncomfortable. “Everyone comes out of this winning except you, Jim. Why, if you patented this medicine, you could get rich, but you’re giving it up for nothing!”
“Not for nothing, Tomas. I’m giving it up to protect our secret identities — and it’s well worth it. Besides, if we really wanted to be rich, I could easily patent some new developments. But we’ve never really been interested in being rich.” Sue looked at him with a funny look, but Jim didn’t see it. Todd figured it was a good time to keep silent.
Tomas stood up. “Hey, anyone else want a soda?” He took a step toward the fridge, and bounced about three feet off the floor. He flailed about for something to grab on to, and managed to grasp one of the shelves on the bookcase. The wood splintered in his grasp. He allowed himself to fall to the floor, then lay still. “Wow! What’s wrong with me?”
Jim smiled. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with you. You forgot that this drug also gives you super-powers. Your strength and agility are being increased significantly, and it will take you a little time to regain your coordination. You should have seen me — I smashed a table and shoved my dresser through a wall before I figured out what was going on! Here, let me and Sue give you a hand.”
They helped him up, guiding and supporting him as he slowly walked around the room. His steps became increasingly more steady, and he soon regained his confidence.
“Say, you know it’s time to go to the airport?” Todd remarked. So far, he figured, they had handled all the crises that had faced them. If he could get through this last ordeal, and then events proceeded as Jim predicted, he could get back to his normal life. Although he had an idea that normal might have a different meaning for him soon.
The meeting at the airport was much simpler than Todd had imagined. Tomas met his folks at the gate, and, once they got over their disbelief, their joy at seeing him was almost beyond description. After that, things went pretty much as predicted by Jim. The biggest change for Tomas was that he felt he had to quit the boxing team. With his new powers, it wasn’t really fair. He told everyone that his health was still fragile. This made him unpopular for a while, but eventually people got over it.
And life went on pretty much as before… until the Suspendium event.