Meeting of Minds
Peter Parker was checking himself over, making sure no part of his costume was peeking out from underneath his regular clothes. Bad enough he was late for this meeting with his academic advisor, he didn't need Dr. Connors thinking he was a freak who wore long underwear during a hot September in New York. Much less, guessing his true secret.
Dr. Connors had his office door open to the corridor, so evidently he was still having his student meetings. On the other hand, maybe Peter had already lost his appointment time; he could hear voices coming faintly from ahead of him as he walked down the hallway.
"I'm not saying it's not an interesting theory, Dr. Suresh, but extraordinary claims do require extraordinary evidence," Peter heard Dr. Connors saying.
Peter came around the corner to stand in the doorway to the office. A tall man of South Asian descent was talking animatedly with Dr. Connors, gesticulating towards a series of notes on the blackboard in the corner.
"The evidence may be extraordinary, but it's also plentiful," said the stranger, who must be this Dr. Suresh. "Leaving aside for the moment the aliens like Superman, even though I suspect their remarkably human form suggests a common ancestry that would make them valid examples, we still have a fair number of very public 'meta-' or superhumans, many of them in this very city." He tapped a circle chalked on the board, marked "Meta/Super/Mutant", where it intersected with another circle marked "Public/Costumed". Suresh was using a Venn diagram to illustrate his point.
"Factor in the likelihood that many people gifted with such extraordinary abilities would not
be inclined to dress up in colorful costumes and fight crime, but might choose instead to hide those abilities, and the conclusion is inescapable," continued Suresh. "There is most likely a fairly large and growing population of such individuals in the world today, and their genesis is an important topic of research." He indicated the entirety of the "Meta/Super/Mutant" circle for emphasis.
"Don't forget those who might go public, but in a more selfish way," said Peter from the doorway. "They're part of your sample size for the intersection of those two categories as well. So add the Green Goblin, Dr. Octopus, Dr. Doom, probably a few others to your count of observed superhumans, and factor that into your estimate of those who remain unobserved."
"Ah, Peter. Just on time, I see," said Dr. Connors. "This is one of my most promising students, Dr. Suresh, Peter Parker. Unfortunately, he's sometimes more promising than delivering, if you know what I mean. Who knows how far he'd have gone already if he really applied himself."
"Just on time?" asked Peter. "But I thought..."
"Oh, come now, Peter," said Connors. "How long have I been your advisor now? When have you ever been able to keep an appointment? I finally decided to just start giving you appointment times a half hour before I really wanted to meet with you."
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Peter," said Dr. Suresh. "And that's an interesting point you raise. We really should count these so-called 'supervillains' with extraordinary powers into the number of positive examples we have of people with such abilities, no matter how much we may deplore their use of them. All that remains then is to document and substantiate the existence of the others I suspect exist, hiding their light under a bushel."
"I really can't argue with the logic of your silent majority theory," said Connors. "But coming up with a good argument is one thing; proving, or rather failing to disprove
, it scientifically is quite another. Documenting the existence of superhumans who don't wish to go public is quite the tall order. Even then, only once you'd identified a good sample size of them would you even be able to start investigating and coming to conclusions about their origins. I'm afraid your father's theory about a new evolutionary leap for mankind doesn't have much support, especially when it doesn't explain why these abilities seem to vary so wildly from person to person."
"From what I can tell, the majority of known superhumans are either aliens or the result of freak accidents, not a different genetic makeup at birth," said Peter. "That's certainly true of the Fantastic Four and Dr. Octopus."
"True, so far as we know for certain. What of Spider-Man, hmm?" asked Suresh. "You are the Peter Parker credited with those pictures of him in the Daily Bugle, are you not? You seem to be the only one who routinely gets close to him, surely you have some special insight."
"Well, it's not like we're buddies, exactly," said Peter. No, it's more like we're the same person, but I'm not saying that.
"I guess Spider-Man liked my first few pictures, and now he sometimes leaves me hints or notes about where he's going to show up. We don't really talk much, although he has hinted to me that he got his powers from an accident of some kind. I don't have any details to share with you, though."
Peter paused. Better divert him from this line of thinking. Why didn't I just say Spider-Man was born with his powers?
"I'd think Dr. Richards would be the one to talk to. He's the one with four experimental subjects, including himself, to work with constantly. He should have the most insight of anybody into what causes superhuman mutations."
"Of course," replied Suresh. "The Baxter Building was one of my first stops, but the receptionist informed me that the Fantastic Four are away on a mission of some kind. Something about exploring for Atlantis or Lemuria, I believe."
"Dr. Richards always was rather... unorthodox in his methods, even before his accident," said Dr. Connors. "Of course, he also has a rather good track record of being correct with even his more outlandish claims, so I think it's worth checking back with him periodically."
Connors started leafing through some of the papers Suresh had brought with him, turning them over in their folder with his one hand. "In the meantime, these anecdotes about people displaying what looked like rapid cellular regeneration seem interesting. I suppose that's why you put those files up front, for me to see?" Suresh nodded. "Naturally, I have a vested interest in this area of research. I suppose if we could
locate any of these individuals and get them to agree to be poked and prodded a little, it would speed up my research immensely."
Connors closed the folder, evidently coming to a decision. "I don't know how long it will take for your credentials from Madras to be accepted here at ESU, so I can't offer you any kind of teaching position. However, I have almost total discretion with my research budget, and there is a research assistant spot open since Peter here prefers to pay for his schooling with his extracurricular photography career. It doesn't pay much, but it would allow you to continue work on your father's project."
Connors turned to Peter. "Well, maybe we don't have to meet for long after all. I know you've been hunting around for a solid thesis topic for your Master's degree, and I've been shooting down all your proposals that only involved secondary research. This project seems like it would be right up your alley, and it would definitely count as primary, ground-breaking work; I think I'd like you to work on it with Dr. Suresh here."As though I didn't have enough problems in my life,
Charles Xavier lifted the helmet off his head. With all the exposed wires and circuitry, it looked rather like some Rube Goldberg device, or perhaps part of an electric chair. He'd have to give it a better casing sometime, but then a lot of work had been left half-finished when Erik left.
No time for such thoughts now. This was almost unprecedented. Nine hits with Cerebro in one day, four of them right down the road in New York City. Well, four once one signal had hopped from Tokyo to Times Square, clearly a teleport of some kind.
Stranger still, only one of the new mutants seemed to be in adolescence, when mutant powers most commonly emerged in Xavier's experience. The rest seemed to be mostly adults, with one in grade school. What was going on? He could count on the fingers of one hand the number of mutants he knew that had only discovered their differences as adults.
Well, one of the new finds might be able to tell him what was going on, thought Xavier. He had gotten a sense of a very strong precognitive gift. Unfortunately, there had also been quite a bit of emotional distress and self-destructive impulses in the mix. Yes, they had better retrieve the precog first, before the poor fellow did something he wouldn't live to regret.
Xavier concentrated again, sending a signal out to his most advanced students so that he could brief them on their next mission. To me, my X-Men!
Adam Kane looked around his small lab space for a moment. Good, there were no other Genomex or Breedlove Foundation employees in sight, and he had a worm written that would put the security cameras on loop. He could finally start to find out what was going on with the fruits of his research.
He quickly typed in the commands to deal with the cameras, and then tapped into a different set of cameras and microphones entirely. An image of Breedlove and Eckhart talking in Breedlove's office popped up on the screen.
"There is another matter," Eckhart was saying. "Suresh's son has been poking around in his father's business. He was spotted driving a cab in New York, and then on the ESU campus."
"Connors. He's most likely talking to Connors," said Breedlove. "Any contact with Richards?"
"No, the 'Fantastic Four' are away at the moment," said Eckhart. "However, I don't like the idea of Richards becoming involved. This is just the sort of thing he likes to sink his teeth into; give him one new mutant, and he could probably reverse-engineer our entire program in a matter of weeks. Should I give the order to have Mohinder Suresh sanctioned before Richards can return?"
"No, no," said Breedlove. "Your agents are always so zealous, and besides we don't want to arouse anybody's suspicions just yet. For Richards, see if there are any candidates in storage that could serve as a distraction for when his team comes back. If they want to be superheroes from the funny papers, let's give them some supervillains to fight. Go ahead and use Adam's control implant technology, just make sure it's got a self-destruct capability, at least for the chips."
The older scientist paused in thought. "As for Connors... hmmm. Regeneration is his big concern, right?" Breedlove's face brightened after a moment, and he snapped his fingers. "I have just the thing. NID sent over this little packet, wanting to know if I was interested in pursuing it. It's the nanite research that boy Banner was working on for Atheon before his unfortunate accident. Let's leak it to Connors somehow; that should keep him too busy to worry about natural mutants for a while. He might even do something useful with it."
"As you say," replied Eckhart. "Should we maintain surveillance, though, just to make sure?"
"Of course, of course," said Breedlove. "Whatever you want. Let's just not tip our hand. There's no need for the public to become aware yet of the monsters we've created, or our role in their making." He looked up at Eckhart. "That will be all."
Adam hurriedly closed the frame in which he'd been viewing this exchange, switching over to a slide presentation on RNA transfer, as his assistant came in the doorway. "Everything all right, Dr. Kane?"
"Oh, yes, just getting slow in my old age," replied Adam. "Can you go get me the trial results from the Warren protocols, though, Cameron? I want to review the RNA correlations again before presenting this to Dr. Breedlove."
"Okay," replied his assistant. "I'll be right back."
There wasn't much time. Genomex had already gone further than he'd ever believed Dr. Breedlove would ever allow, but now it appeared that Adam's mentor was actually behind the worst excesses, and proposed to do more. They were proceeding from research to cover-up, and were willing to use any means necessary towards that goal.
He couldn't allow that. He couldn't allow their subjects - their children, in a way - to be hunted down, locked up, and used as pawns. He couldn't allow innocent researchers to be duped and misled, even eliminated, just because they came too close to Genomex's secrets.
Adam would have to find a way to leave Genomex, sooner than he had planned.