“Well?” asked Lodestone. “How is your Neo-Sapien power of super-people-skills going to bail us out of this one?”
Adonis could form no words at the sight before him. Walkabout had connected them to the right city- given the file the pair had been given on Everett McGee. His address was within a few blocks of where they had been deposited… but Professor Alston had misinformed them. They weren’t bound for Saint Louis, Missouri but rather they found themselves in the South End of East Saint Louis, Illinois.
In the 1950’s, East Saint Louis had been named an All-American City. Her population then had swelled to eighty-thousand and prosperity ran rampant through the Midwestern city. The shine had dimmed since then and the once model city was now the perfect candidate for the Model Cities program. A parade of Federal help initiatives slipped through the streets but none stayed long. As the factories began to close, the economy crumbled and the crime rate towered over the denizens of the once endearing would-be metropolis.
“We’re going to get shot,” Lodestone grumbled as a young urban male approached them. “We’re going to die here…”
“You know,” Adonis said matter-of-factly, “I read once that despite having a very high murder rate, the rate of assault in ESL is much more staggering. In fact, we’re more likely to be raped than we are killed.”
“That’s comforting,” Magnus whispered, the young man nearing earshot.
“Yo. What gang you with?”
Adonis and Lodestone looked at each other. The two were clad in black Kevlar, with a white slash across the arms and chest that formed a ‘V’. It was the standard issue uniform for the Vindicators as well as their junior counterparts. That he failed to recognize the symbol of the world’s sentries was an alarming notion but not as alarming as the handgun easily noticeable and protruding from under his jacket.
Magnus thought quick. With his magnetic abilities, he was confident he could stop a bullet. Still, the concentration it may demand could tax him and leave him defenseless should any of the youth’s companions from the Black Egyptians choose to join in on the brawl. “We’re Mormons,” he offered.
Adonis blinked; there was no way to have possibly been prepared for the yarn Lodestone was about to spin. “Brother Skraag and I are just out as ambassadors of the Church of Jesus Christ of Later Day Saints.” Already he could see the effect it had on their newfound friend. “May I offer you some of our literature? The Book of Mormon?”
“N—no… naw, bro… thas coo. I—I gots t’get goin’…”
As the man hurried away to his gang, Adonis flashed Lodestone an exasperated look. “Mormons?” he thundered—though managing to keep his voice down.
“Hey, I don’t know about you but if there’s anyone I hate talking to it’s a religion salesman. Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, door-to-door Christians… especially the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Nothing against them personally, but let’s be honest here: their religion believes paradise has a maximum seating capacity. One-hundred and forty-four thousand, I think? Well, their religion was founded in the 1870s or something and… I think I read that there are some six million JW’s actively involved in preaching. Now… my math comes out that Heaven’s probably full up by their teachings. I’m not sure what they believe but… if Heaven’s full up by their logic… where do they go when they die? Why keep practicing a religion that won’t give you the happy-ever-after when you kick the breathing habit?”
“Why have faith in something that doesn’t reward you?”
Lodestone shook his head. “You’re twisting my words.”
“I don’t believe I am. I’m merely trying to understand what you’re implying…”
The manipulator of magnetism flashed Adonis a wide grin as he steered them into a small clothing outlet. “You know, for someone who’s supposed to have this ‘unnatural way with people’, you’re not a very eloquent speaker.”
“What are we doing?”
“Proving you suck?”
“I mean here.” He gestured to the store.
“Oh. We need black pants and white shirts. We have to look Mormony.”
“‘Mormony’?” Adonis asked. “Why do I get the feeling that this escapade will only give you more leeway to drag organized religions through the mud?”
“I’m an irreligious thesist,” Adonis admitted with a shrug. “I believe in God but… I dunno, I guess it’s hard to want to honor and serve him if—well… if we have to live in a world that fears and hates us and wants nothing more than to see people like you and I dead just for being born a little different.”
“Oh, yeah… I manipulate magnetic waves and you make women do whatever you want. We’re only a LITTLE different though.”
“Do you even have money on you?” Adonis flashed Lodestone as blank of a look as the clerk did at the sight of the duo in their uniforms. Lodestone had found pants in his size and pushed them into Adonis’ arms while he searched for something that would fit Adonis.
“We don’t need money—we’ve got you. It’s a small store and it looks like the only sales clerk is a girl. You know what to do.”
“So we’re stealing now? How heroic.”
Lodestone said nothing as he vanished into the sole changing room of TALNER OUTLETS, reemerging as the ideal Mormon witness, his uniform folded neatly in the backpack he had found en route towards the back of the store. He eagerly waited while Adonis grudgingly changed and flashed the infatuated clerk a quick smile. She waved playfully as she began to blush, trying to hide her dopey expression in the folds of her navy-blue turtle neck sweater. Still, she said nothing as the pair casually slipped out of the store. “We’ll put everything back before we leave,” Lodestone said in an attempt to encourage the depressing Adonis. “We’re not stealing… just borrowing. It’s for the good of the mission.”
“It’s not that… it’s just… don’t you feel bad about doing this? I mean, maybe we don’t but there ARE people who believe in this! I mean… the Mormon church has hordes of patrons, I’m sure, and it just—it just feels like we’re stomping over their beliefs. This feels really, really wrong.”
“No one’s going to know.”
“That’s to say there is a God.”
Adonis grinned. “So… okay, I spilled; now it’s your turn… What do you believe in?”
Lodestone shrugged and led the duo’s way out of the small store and onto the streets. “Nothing, I guess,” he said as they began to navigate their way towards the McGee’s house.
Adonis laughed. “You have to believe in something, Magnus. Even having faith that there is nothing divine about the wonder of life is still having faith. I mean, okay… let’s say you’re an atheist. You probably buy into the Big Bang and the Theory of Evolution?”
“Okay. What’s evolution? It’s mutation, right? It’s when the environment favors beneficial mutations—survival of the fittest? Adaptation?”
“Sure… that sounds right.”
“That sounds stupid. Think about it: bacterium, the earliest form of life, has two-thousand enzymes. Do you know how long it would take to just spontaneously manifest the right enzymes to create life? Only a few hundred BILLION years PER mutations. Time isn’t the only problem; there’s also coordination. Like… bats, possums, sharks… let’s just take bats though. You believe in bats, right?”
“Okay, well… bats navigate by sound. To do that, they need special vocal chords to emit the sounds and they need special ears to receive the sounds that travel back to them. They also need special brains to interpret the sounds and special bodies to allow them to react to the information they decipher. If all these special parts don’t evolve simultaneously, then there’s no actual advantage. By the laws of evolution and natural selection… bats begin blind. They need to eat. Over the course of a few million years, they develop those special vocal chords. Now they have a new need: hearing them. A few millions years pass and now they can make the noises and hear the noises but it doesn’t make any sense. So a few more million years pass and they develop those special little brains. You see the problem? If evolution was viable—if natural selection exists—then bats should be extinct by now.”
“Not unless they could see… they adapted to the new bodies and they no longer needed to see.”
“Evolution doesn’t work in reverse. You don’t need your appendix to live—but evolution hasn’t figured that out and weeded that out of the equation. Bats can’t see and have underdeveloped hind legs. By the law of the jungle they shouldn’t even exist… but they do. Seems almost naïve to deny the existence of an intelligent designer, doesn’t it?”
Lodestone was stunned. Everything Adonis said made sense but it clashed with a lifetime of conditioning and a world of pride.
“What do you think?” Adonis asked.
Lodestone looked down at the folder they had been given and matched the address the Academy had provided to the one on the mailbox before them. “I think we’re here… and I think maybe you should do the talking.”
With a curt nod, Adonis took the steps carefully. The stone stairs were cracked and in disarray. The windows were broken and covered with plywood. The house itself was slanting on its foundation. The neighborhood around them was disturbingly vacant. Still, Adonis dared to ring the bell and showed no surprise when the door cracked to revel a short, elderly woman. “Hello, ma’am,” Adonis began. “My name is Adonis Skraag and this is my companion, Magnus Loder and we-”
“We already go to church,” she said as she moved to shut the door.
“No, no!” Adonis exclaimed. “We—we’re not from any church… we’re from a school for… gifted youngsters. I was hoping it would be all right for us to talk to Everett.”
“My grandson is dead,” she said robotically. Adonis slipped his hand into the door and met her sad, downcast eyes with his own compelling gaze. “Would you like to come in and have some cookies and coffee?” she asked hopefully, a skip in her voice as she pulled open the door to permit the pair entry. “Everett will be so glad to have friends visit.”
Once more, Lodestone found himself uncomfortable with the notion that he was thankful for being partnered with Adonis.
“You have a lovely home, Missus McGee.”
“Oh, no… Missus McGee died four years ago. I’m Everett’s other grandma. I’m Thelma Hayden. You—you can call me Thelma.”
“Thelma!” thundered a man, just a few years senior to Everett’s grandmother and easily marked as his grandfather. “Who are they? What are they doing here?”
“They’re here to see Everett,” she cooed, never taking her eyes from Adonis.
“Our grandson’s dead,” the man boomed. “Now get off my property. Yer tresspassin’ and I’ve a right to shoot ya right here and now if’n ya don’t move.” He turned and moved towards a cabinet. Magnus felt out with his power; closing his eyes to the distraction of his field of vision, he opened himself to another world—one where he saw only glowing shapes composed of metal. Three shotguns were lined up in that cabinet.
The years had made James Hayden Junior slower than he had been in his tours of Korea. The former veteran had seen many things in his time with the military but nothing could have prepared him for his antique rifles erupting from the cabinet of their own accord. He was more stunned to watch them empty themselves of their ammunition and fall uselessly at his feet.
“We know about Everett,” Adonis said, “and if you’ll allow it—if Everett will accept it—we would very much so like to help him. You see… we’re both Neo-Sapiens too. My friend is Magnus Loder. You’ve heard of the Lodestone dynasty?”
James Hayden nodded, spellbound by what he was seeing and hearing unfolding in his living room.
“Magnus is the fourth generation of Lodestones to protect this world. We don’t intend to hurt you and we don’t want to threaten you. We’re not like that… we just want to give Everett a chance to get help.”
“You can’t,” James said, shaking his head as he began to cry. “Nobody can help our Ev…”
Adonis advanced forward and put his arms around the elderly man. “I can only imagine what you people have been through. It’s been hard, hasn’t it? Everett’s powers are raging out of control and it’s hard to hide. People know what your grandson is and you’ve had to protect him, haven’t you?” Mister Hayden could only nod. “You and your wife are truly beautiful people for sacrificing all you have for him. You love him so very much—that anyone could see…
“I grew up in New York… and when people there found out about my powers they wanted to hurt me. They came to my house and they wanted to kill me and my parents defended me. They gave their lives for me. Everett isn’t just lucky to have good, loving people like you in his life—he’s lucky that he still has you. But Everett’s already lost those precious to him, hasn’t he?”
“Just like what happened to me,” Adonis whispered, his voice strong as he spoke of his parents’ deaths. Lodestone could say nothing as he stood back—he was amazed by Adonis’ sway over others. Professor Alston had been right: Adonis did have an effect on people. It was eerie to watch, knowing that this was an aspect of his Neo-Sapien abilities. There was a force within Adonis that compelled him to empathize with people—a part of him resonated with everyone he met.
It suddenly occurred to Lodestone that Adonis may have been the key to what he was looking for. Adonis’ abilities might render it impossible for Chimera or Blitzkrieg to withhold any information. Adonis was his key to learning just who was the mastermind behind the Affiliation.
“We’re from a school in New York. I know it’s far away but… Everett could get the care he needs there. He would be looked after and protected. They might even be able to help him control his powers.
Mister Hayden sobbed. “I’d miss him so much though…”
“And I know that he would miss you both… Especially since you have done so much to safeguard him.”
“You—you should talk to Ev… he’s upstairs in his room.”
Adonis nodded. “Take us to him.”
To Be Continued... wrote:Orbit