The office of Principal Summers is slightly cool. It’s that time of year where the AC has stopped cutting on, but the the heat still hasn’t triggered yet. The wooden walls are lined with book shelves and pictures. The elderly figure sits behind his desk and looks up pleasantly as we enter.
“Mr. Weeks. Ms. Wagner. How can I help you?”
In a snap, Summers’s eyes shift from kindly but questioning to steel. He stands and walks to the windows. His left hand touches the sill as his right hand closes the shades. “I assume both of you remember that name. Ms. Wagner, do you recall your summer activities?”
Schism gives Summers a steady look, but underneath there’s a hint of fear and anger leaking out, as she rarely tries to conceal her emotions. “Yes of course I do. You know something’s happened to him. Was it because of what we did in Greece?”
Summers gives out a slow sigh and sits back down. He takes a drink for himself from the table beside the window. “No. And it’s not just him. We are aware of other disturbances and are looking into them. Until this moment, we thought the student body was entirely unaware.”
Schism holds out Adnan’s bracelet. The one that looked like hers. She, Adnan, and Aramat had bought olivewood keepsakes in Mytilene, only Aramat’s was a string of beads. The two others had been captivated by a pair of solid carved bracelets that looked almost identical, a fact that neither of them mentioned to the other as they made their purchases. The one in her hand has the letters “A.H.” and a lightning bolt carved into the inner side.
“Please. This is the only thing I could find of him. Can you use it to get him back? Brian tried to dust it for prints, but the only ones that came up were mine, and just where I’d grabbed it. There should’ve been others. When he checked the databases for Adnan’s prints, on a hunch, there was no trace of them, though there should’ve been with his refugee status.” Schism takes a step towards Summers and then stops, tilting her head slightly in sudden thought.
“Wait. Why did it affect the students and not you guys?”
The head counselor, Gabriel Marquez, wheels himself into the room. Summers gestures toward Marquez. “I actually don’t remember Adnan. I was alerted to the change by Mr. Marquez.”
Marquez gives a soft smile. “I was writing some notes to myself to check in with Adnan after his experiences, when I noticed that they disappeared mid pen-stroke. I alerted the Administration and discovered they were unaware, just like we later found out the students were.”
Summers interjects, “We put in a few feelers to the student body and other spots. As far as we could tell, no one else remembers. It’s just you two and Mr. Marquez.”
Reggie shoots a quick look to Schism and then turns back to the faculty.
Schism turns to Mr. Marquez, the look on her face changes to one of mental calculation. She is trying to ponder what they all had in common. “Can you tell why some remember and some don’t?”
Marquez steeples his fingers over his wheelchair. He pauses, his brief contemplation fills the room with a starkly noticeable silence. “I think I was unaffected due to my ability to nullify powers. However, normally this requires me to use said powers. Oddly, when we ran tests, we can tell that my powers are active on me, however, they’re not coming from me. It’s like another me is using them on me.”
“Some of the members of Next Gen…the ones that have a reason to remember him, like if they’ve hung out with him before, they remember as well,” Reggie interjects.
Summers looks at Reggie. “That’s good. That means that some of our calculations are correct. We don’t know what is going on, but we’ve managed to gather some information. We chose you all because you’re brave. At your heart, you’re good. However, you were also chosen because we could tell that somehow you weren’t nearly as affected as others.”
He turns his attention to Schism and continues, “We are currently researching what it is we’re dealing with. However, and let me make this crystal clear, this isn’t some scuffle like with Doc Otaku where we can let the students take charge and see what it’s like to face a supervillain.”
“I knew it,” Reggie interjects. “You know something is coming. You chose us for next wave sooner than you wanted to because you know we’re going to be needed soon. To accelerate our education like that…for you to put us in that kind of danger before senior year…” Reggie looks up at Summers with realization. “Just how bad are we talking?”
Summers shoots Reggie a stern look. “As far as we can tell, we’re dealing with a possible end of the world scenario here.”
That last sentence hangs heavy in the room for a moment.
Schism shakes her head. Eyes narrowing. “Why though? Why take Adnan? Is he just like a test for what’s coming?”
Summers finally reaches out and takes the bracelet Schism had offered earlier. “It’s interesting that this is left over. It’s like the extraction was jagged. Imprecise. It suggests less control which is both reassuring and more concerning.”
Schism looks from the bracelet to Summers. “It was hidden in a crack in his floor. The only reason I found it was because I’d teleported him to his room while he was wearing it. It had a trace of my quantum signature on it.” She closed her eyes and braced for the answer to the question she was about to ask. “Do you think they hurt him?”
Summers’s look softens. “If this is leftover from you connecting to him, I think it’s likely that he’s not actually gone Just hidden. This could be the link. My theory, based on what I’ve heard about the boy, is that he got involved in investigating something and didn’t tell anyone else what he was doing.”
“Oh.” Schism lets out her held breath. “I might know something about that…”
Summers cocked his head. “Please go ahead.”
Marquez puts his hand out to Schism. “Take your time.”
Schism looks down, turning the bracelet over in her hands, trying to separate the emotion from the facts of that last conversation, where they’d been planning to take on the world together again. “He was kind of vague, but he said he was looking into some strange things going on with chemicals being put into children’s food and other weird pharmaceutical stuff. I’m trying to remember what he said specifically…”
Marquez’s eyes dart to Summers at that.
Summers maintains a friendly face, giving away nothing.
“We were going to look into it more using our, uh, networks.” Schism continues. " Do you know anything about that?"
“HA!” Summers let out a boisterous laugh of disbelief. “Your ‘networks,’ at 16. Unbelievable. All of you are both a joy and worry to me. More concretely though, we have someone looking into that situation. A hero. We’ve heard whispers of what you’re talking about over the last 5 years. It might go back longer. The trail is well-hidden. False companies in false companies. We can take down one hydra head, but we find so many more. Recently, those whispers are getting stronger.”
Schism adds, "He said something about…vaccinations. That he wasn’t an anti-vaxxer but the things they were trying out on kids to somehow improve them just didn’t seem right? Wait…which hero is looking into this?”
“Hmm, let me think on that. I don’t want to speak out of turn.”
Reggie uncrosses his arms and lowers his hand from his chin pointing in the air suddenly and interjects just before Schism says something that would probably get her detention, “There may be a connection there with the children many of us saw in our…visions during the last next wave tests.”
Schism looks to Reggie. “Yeah, maybe? I’m sorry. That’s all I can remember right now.”
Marquez says, “That’s totally alright. That alone tells us that we’re closer to finding his trail than we thought we were. Let me promise you something now. We will not let any of our students be taken like this without a response.”
Schism wheels around at the counselor, eyes blazing. “Responses are nice, but we’re getting him back safe, too!”
He stops for a second, looks down at his broken legs and looks back up with renewed strength. “We’re going to get him back. These aren’t empty words. I’m truly hurt by this whole situation and I’m with you.”
Schism looks at Counselor Marquez deeply for a moment, then nods. “I believe you.”
Reggie waits a bit then continues, “Principal Summers, if there’s anything you can give me information-wise that I can take back to my…extra-credit and look into, I’d be glad to help that way.”
“The Atom family and I have worked together before,” says Summers. “They’re analyzing something for me already.” He hands the bracelet back to Schism. “I think this could be very useful to finding him. If you and your friends follow up on this, please, be careful. I know you’re strong enough to handle a lot of things, but, I need to hear you’re going to use your head first, before you rush in.” He says that last part with a judging look at both students.
As he pulls his hands back, Schism sees that he has something palmed that disappears into his cane. What it was is unclear. Schism’s eyes narrow again at Principal Summers. She looks at his hand, then questioningly at him.
Summers looks at Schism, gives a brief smile, then shakes his head with a quick “No.”
“It’s like everything about him got put on another sheet of paper,” he continues. “We’re reading one page, he’s on another, but we’re all in the same book. We don’t know if this is due to temporal things, magic, an alternate earth, or what. I know that the Atom Family found an alternate Freedom City just on the other edge of the oblivion brought by Omega.”
Schism turns to Reggie. “You should tell him about what happened to you. The reason we decided to talk to him in the first place.”
Reggie takes a deep breath. “Yeah. The book analogy might be closer to true than you think. We were playing frisbee. I was racing Shadow for the disk. I pushed my limits. I ran faster than I ever have before. My chest burned, and just as I broke the sound barrier I started seeing pages. They were flitting by showing images of my classmates as freshmen, familiar buildings here on campus, and then my picture, again from freshman year. It was circled in red. I came to as I produced a sonic boom. It all felt so real though…”
Summers nods. “Coach Hot Rod saw something when he was pushing Mach 3. However what he saw was the book burning. Explosively.”
Reggie continues. “ Aaron had a vision of a child with many faces. Never the same one. He couldn’t nail anything else about it down though. He was pushing deeper into another pocket dimension…or that’s what he thought. The child told him he wasn’t supposed to be there and then screamed at him and threw him back into the simulation we were in.”
“Hmmm, many faces. Like of children being given odd vaccines?” Summers interjects.
“Yes. Given what Nina said earlier, that was my thought. There was also the 7 children Bobby and his teammates saw in their…vision. Tell them what you saw too, Schism.”
“I saw an angry eye looking at all of us from somewhere high up in Freedom City. There was fury or malice concentrated on Reggie, Aaron, and then me.”
“It’s seems sort of like that old movie, The Matrix,” Reggie Continues. “There’s a layer we aren’t seeing. Just past our perception of reality. Too many of us are experiencing things like that for it to be a coincidence.
“Then yes, it seems likely that another world is trying to insert or pull from this world,” Summers says. “However, that is conjecture. And we need to be careful about conjecture. We only have a few clues so far. I will follow up on my end. Please feel free to find out what you can, but be careful. We don’t know what we’re dealing with. We know it is powerful, though.”
“We’ll keep you in the loop of all the weird we encounter. The more people here that know, the more brains we have working on a solution.” Reggie says trying to get Summers to share more.
“Yes, please share anything you find with us. If we find anything actuable, we’ll share it with you. My days of roaming the streets beating information out of criminals is behind me, however,” Summers says with a wink, “I still have a few tricks.”
Schism almost unwillingly smiles back. “Hey, if you need any information beaten out of people, I could volunteer on your behalf.” She glances up again. “Just kidding. Kind of.”
Principal Summers looks at her appraisingly. She gazes back at him, then turns to Reggie. “ Deaglan and Aaron said that they were going to ask Angel about tracking the bracelet, and Blake said she might be able to pull some clues from it. Safely.” She glances back at the two faculty members. “Let’s see if we can find them.”
The students both excuse themselves and stop in the hallway outside Summer’s office. Reggie turns to Schism and says, “Hey. I’m really sorry. About Adnan I mean. We’ll get him back.”
Away from the adults, Schism allows herself to slump against the wall, betraying her lack of sleep since her friend’s disappearance. She looks back at him and the confusion of emotions she’d mostly managed to hold back in the office makes itself clear.
“Thanks, Reggie. He’s…look, he’s just a friend. Normally I’d be pretty up front about not wanting to be ‘just friends’, but you know I’m a born trouble magnet. I’m not ashamed of that, but I can’t risk anything happening to his scholarship here.” Reggie listens carefully, noting her insistance on the present tense with Adnan. “I mean, I already keep you and Bobby out of most of my revolutionary stuff because I don’t want anything happening to fu-I mean screw up your futures here. Adnan, he’s…different. I was going to see how things were after we all graduated. What he thought. I mean, he has a temper almost to match mine, and he fights so hard to help people, especially people that are going through what he did. We practically talk over each other with all the ideas and jokes and…damn it. We’re a good team, you know. I told you what we were doing this summer in Greece; he saved all our lives more than once, risking more than any of us. Whoever did this to him, whatever it is, he didn’t deserve it. He didn’t fucking deserve it!”
Schism spits out the last bit, almost shaking. Reggie puts a companionly hand on her shoulder. “Nina. Simone. Damn it, whoever you are, listen to me. We will get him back. And trust me. I can relate to the whole just friends thing.”
She gives a half laugh and nods, some of the tension easing. “Yeah, I know you’ve got your crazy atomic connections, and the others sound like they’re willing to help, too. I’m better now. Just needed to get it out, you know? Ok, soap opera time over; let’s go find Blake and the rest and figure out what our next steps are. And those two back there can laugh, but we actually developed a solid web of underground connections and contacts over the last year that I think could be helpful.”
“So you know, I’m pretty sure they weren’t laughing at the fact that you have connections or their validity. They were laughing in a sort of “of course you do” acknowledgement of how we’ve been stepping up. Summers was proud of you.” Reggie follows that up with a wide grin knowing how much Nina distrusts authority. Having their praise was too good an irony to not smile at.
As they start trotting down the hall, the two glance at each other conspiratorially, each pondering aloud possible answers to the same question: “So…which superhero do you think Summers actually was?”