Aside from having more or less the sort of dirt that we'd been trying to get, I had a reason to be happy. I understood what was going on--at least in abstract.

We had two groups, Magnus and the Cabal, going after Red Lightning's machine, or, more accurately, the knowledge that created Red Lightning's machine. Why were they even bothering? It all had to do with powers in the end. From what scientists have discovered so far, it looks like very few people have powers or even the potential for powers. Among those to do, a few get lucky and have them practically from birth, others experience "metahuman expression" at puberty, and the rest need some sort of trigger.

It's complicated by the fact that the same trigger won't work on everyone. Expose one guy to the bite of a radioactive giraffe and you've got a superhero (Giraffeman?). Expose another and you've got a nasty, infected wound.

The "drink of gods" and Red Lightning's potions had to be basically the same thing--a temporarily effective trigger that provided a low level version of a person's abilities. Beyond anything else, the hieroglyphic on Red Lightning's costume and Magnus' former employee's ring argued for a connection there. 

Between the two of them, my grandfather and Vaughn's had managed to create a machine that delivered a permanent version of Red Lightning's powers. If the process they used to discover what that trigger was worked for even a few people, they had something that anybody using the "drink of gods" would want.

Plus, the rampaging gangs in Chicago earlier (that needed heroes from all over the country to control them) vs. Red Lightning's superpowered, drug addicted gangs back in the 1960's? Another connection. It couldn't be coincidental that it took out a bunch of people connected with Magnus. For that matter, I thought, that might have been the riots' whole point. 

I felt like a detective--like I should be getting all the suspects into the parlor and informing them that it was Colonel Mustard in the conservatory with the candlestick.

Unfortunately, I was alone, in a basement the size of a basketball court with endless cardboard boxes containing forty years worth of memorabilia.

I had a sense that I should be doing something. The problem was, what exactly? Release the conversation to the media? Call Daniel's dad as he'd probably expect?

None of those were particularly heroic. I couldn't imagine my grandfather bringing down a politician with dirt--though who knows? I really didn't know half the stuff the original Heroes League had been involved in. I also didn't quite feel like passing it off to Daniel's dad. Some part of me felt stubbornly like it was my life and my case and why shouldn't I take care of it myself?

Well, mostly because I had no idea what to do next, and also, supper. Mom generally had it ready between 5:30 and 6:00. It was now 5:12, so I walked home.

Mom had made stir fry, a meal that she liked because you could take just about any vegetables you happened to have in the refrigerator, combine them with meat, and have supper in about half an hour. Mom worked as dad's business manager/publicist and managed his website. Whatever she made had to fit into the time she had available.

Personally, I was a little sick of stir fry, but I wasn't in the mood to complain either, so I ate.

After supper, I helped load the dishwasher and washed the wok. Then I walked upstairs to Dad's study. I caught him as he arranged books and papers around the desk. He was working on another book--something about troubled teens undoubtedly. 

I decided to give him some practical experience.


Dad looked up from moving the books and papers into comfortable reach.

"Nick," he said, "how're things going?"

I found myself thinking about just how much easier this would be if I could actually explain anything to him. As it was I was going to have to cloak everything in generalities to the point that Dad's advice might end up being useless.

"Okay," I said, "I was just wondering if I could ask you a question."


"I'm working on a project with some other kids and I've hit something I'm not comfortable with."

Dad nodded. "What kind of 'not comfortable?' Are you saying it makes you nervous or do you mean morally?"

"Well, I don't think it's wrong as much as 'less right' than some other options," I said.

"You'll have to think about how much less right it needs to be before you say something," he said.

I know we talked for a little while after that, but I don't remember it. I went to my room and started on my homework, pausing occasionally to think.

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About the author


Bio: Jim Zoetewey grew up in Holland, Michigan, near where L Frank Baum wrote The Wizard of Oz and other books in that series. Admittedly, Baum moved away more than sixty years before Jim was even born, but it's still kind of cool. Jim didn't attain his goal of never leaving school, but did prolong his stay as long as possible. He majored in religion and sociology at Hope College, gaining enough credits to obtain minors in ancient civilizations and creative writing—had he thought to submit applications to the relevant departments. He attended Western Theological Seminary for two years. He followed that up by getting a masters degree in sociology at Western Michigan University. Once out of school, he took up the most logical occupation for someone with his educational background: web developer and technical support. Simultaneously, he finished all but three credits of a masters in Information Systems, a degree that's actually relevant to his field. He's still not done. In the meantime, he's been writing stories about superheroes and posting them online at He's still not sure whether that was a good idea, but continues to do it anyway. He's also not sure why he's writing this in the third person, but he's never seen an author bio written in first person and doesn't want to rock the boat.

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Cestarian @Cestarian ago

And back to MC being a complete and total moron, everything he just learned and felt so 'detective' about has been info that's up for grabs foralmost half the book at this point, right in front of his stupid face, and he doesn't connect the dots until he has recorded proof?

Moreover, wtf was he recording proof for if it wasn't to clear his stupid ass name? Connecting with the prosecutor is the ONLY smart course of action here, he's a dumbass fucking teenager, as he's made painfully apparent repeatedly, not being able to put two braincells together for anything except fixing some stupid cars, which honestly speaking is probably just a plot hole, no way someone so dumb could figure out how to fix a car, even with a manual.


    zoetewey @zoetewey ago

    Sometimes as a writer you deliberately choose to say something that the reader should have figured out by now by noticing lots of little details over the course of the story so far in one place. Why? Because while many readers will have figured it out, some need the help.

    By stating it once, you know everyone is on the same page and you can move forward. If they're not clear on this, they'll be lost for the rest.

      Cestarian @Cestarian ago

      You underestimate the intelligence of your readers. And you make your MC look like a moron while doing it.

      This wasn't stuff that was hidden between the lines, at least not very well hidden, it was all fairly obvious the whole time.


      zoetewey @zoetewey ago

      As this was originally written, each update appeared with a gap of three to four days between them. That means that every two posts was essentially a week of real time. If you think about that, it means that every eight updates is a month. If you look at the number at the top of this post, it's 28. That represents 14 weeks (more than three months) in this chapter alone. You can argue with me if you want to, but in that time, people forget stuff, especially when they're reading this serial for less than 10 minutes twice a week, spread out over several months.

      Your experience of reading it here is much like mine when binging a TV series on Netflix vs. watching it as it appeared. As in, "Are they really going to remind us of what happened during the first half of the season again? Time to fast forward."

      This is similar. It was worth pulling it together in that way in its original setting, but less so here. You could reasonably argue that it should be revised for Royal Road, but I'm not going to. It's more important to improve the story for publishing, so I'm spending my time there.