Soon I Will Be Invincible
By Austin Grossman
Hardcover, 288 pages
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This morning on planet Earth, there are one thousand, six hundred, and eighty-six enhanced, gifted, or otherwise-superpowered persons. Of these, one hundred and twenty-six are civilians leading normal lives. Thirty-eight are kept in research facilities funded by the Department of Defense, or foreign equivalents. Two hundred and twenty-six are aquatic, confined to the oceans. Twenty-nine are strictly localized—powerful trees and genii loci, the Great Sphinx, and the Pyramid of Giza. Twenty-five are microscopic (including the Infinitesimal Seven). Three are dogs; four are cats; one is a bird. Six are made of gas. One is a mobile electrical effect, more of a weather pattern than a person. Seventy-seven are alien visitors. Thirty-eight are missing. Forty-one are off-continuity, permanent émigrés to Earth's alternate realities and branching timestreams.
Six hundred and seventy-eight use their powers to fight crime, while four hundred and forty-one use their powers to commit them. Forty-four are currently confined in Special Containment Facilities for enhanced criminals. Of these last, it is interesting to note that an unusually high proportion have IQs of 300 or more—eighteen to be exact. Including me.
I don't know why it makes you evil. It's just what you find at the extreme right edge of the bell curve, the one you'd get if six billion minds took an intelligence test and you looked at the dozen highest scores. Picture yourself on that graph, sliding rightward and downslope toward the very brightest, down that gradually gentler hill, out over the top million, the top ten thousand—all far smarter than anyone most people ever meet—out to the top thousand—and now things are getting sparser—the last hundred, and it's not a slope at all now, just a dot every once in a while. Go out to the last few grains of sand, the smartest of the smartest of the smartest, times a thousand. It makes sense that people would be a little odd out here. But you really have to wonder why we all end up in jail.
Wake-up for me is at 6:30 a.m., half an hour earlier than the rest of the inmates. There's no furniture in my cell—I'm stretched out on the painted green rectangle where I'm allowed to sleep. The way my skin is, I hardly feel it anyway. The facility is rated for enhanced offenders, but I'm the only one currently in residence. I am their showpiece, the pride of the system, and a regular feature on the governor's tours for visiting dignitaries. They come and watch the performance, to see the tiger in his cage, and I don't disappoint.
The guard raps on the plexiglas wall with his nightstick, so I get up slowly and move to the red painted circle, where they run a scan, X ray, radiation, and the rest. Then they let me put on clothes. I get eight minutes while they check the route. You can do a lot of thinking in eight minutes. I think about what I'll do when I get out of here. I think about the past.
If I had writing materials, I might write a guidebook, a source of advice and inspiration for the next generation of masked criminals, bent prodigies, and lonely geniuses, the ones who've been taught to feel different, or the ones who knew it from the start. The ones who are smart enough to do something about it. There are things they should hear. Somebody has to tell them.
I'm not a criminal. I didn't steal a car. I didn't sell heroin, or steal an old lady's purse. I built a quantum fusion reactor in 1978, and an orbital plasma gun in 1979, and a giant laser-eyed robot in 1984. I tried to conquer the world and almost succeeded, twelve times and counting.
When they take me away, it goes to the World Court—technically I'm a sovereign power. You've seen these trials—the Elemental, Rocking Horse, Dr. Stonehenge. They put you in a glass and steel box. I'm still dangerous, you know, even without my devices. People stare at you; they can't believe what you look like. They read out the long list of charges, like a tribute. There isn't really a trial—it's not like you're innocent. But if you're polite, then at the end they'll let you say a few words.
They'll ask questions. They'll want to know why. "Why did you...hypnotize the president?" "Why did you...take over Chemical Bank?"
I'm the smartest man in the world. Once I wore a cape in public, and fought battles against men who could fly, who had metal skin, who could kill you with their eyes. I fought CoreFire to a standstill, and the Super Squadron, and the Champions. Now I have to shuffle through a cafeteria line with men who tried to pass bad checks. Now I have to wonder if there will be chocolate milk in the dispenser. And whether the smartest man in the world has done the smartest thing he could with his life.
I stand by the door in a ring of armed men while my cell is checked by three specialists with a caseful of instruments. From the tiers come yells, shouts of encouragement, or catcalls. They want to see a show. Then I march, past their eyes, followed by two men in partial armor with bulky high-tech side arms. They have to wait until I pass before their morning lineup.
There's a lot of prison talk about my powers. Inmates believe my eyes can emit laser beams, that my touch is electrical or poisonous, that I come and go as I please through the walls, that I hear everything. People blame things on me—stolen silverware and doors left unlocked. There is even, I note with pride, a gang named after me now: the Impossibles. Mostly white-collar criminals.
I'm allowed to mingle with the general population at mealtimes and in the recreation yard, but I always have a table to myself. I've fooled them too many times by speed or misdirection. By now they know to serve my food in paper dishes, and when I turn in my tray they count the plastic utensils, twice. One guard watches my hands as I eat; another checks under the table. After I sit down, they make me roll up my sleeves and show my hands, both sides, like a magician.
Look at my hands. The skin's a little cool—about 96.1 degrees, if you're curious—and a little rigid: a shirt with extra starch. That skin can stop a bullet; it stopped five of them in my latest arrest as I ran up Seventh Avenue in my cape and helmet, sweating through the heavy cloth. The bruises are still there, not quite faded.
I have a few other tricks. I'm strong, much stronger than should be possible for a mammal my size. Given time and inclination, I could overturn a semi, or rip an ATM out of a wall. I'm not a city-wrecker, not on my own. When Lily and I worked together, she handled that part of it. I'm mostly about the science. That's my main claim to life in the Special Containment Wing, where everything down to the showerheads is either titanium or set two inches deep in reinforced concrete. I'm also faster than I should be—something in the nerve pathways changed in the accident.
Every once in a while a new prisoner comes after me, hoping to make his reputation by breaking a prison-made knife against my ribs, a stolen pencil, or a metal spoon folded over and sharpened. It happens at mealtimes, or in the exercise yard. There is a premonitory hush as soon as he steps into the magic circle, the empty space that moves with me. The guards never step in—maybe it's policy, to alienate me from the prison population, or maybe they just enjoy seeing me pull the trick, proof again that they're guarding the fourth-most-infamous man alive. I straighten a little in the metal chair, set my single plastic spoon down on the folding table.
Excerpted from Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman © 2007. Reprinted with permission by Pantheon Books, a division of Random House, Inc.