Chapter 61

“For the last bit of class today, we’re going to discuss the known anatomy of Variant Homo Sapiens,” Professor Lee said, once the class had finished taking notes on the suspected origins of Supers. “Or, rather, the anatomy of those who have been studied after their death, and the results of which were disclosed to the public. As we’ve covered before, for various reasons this will be slim pickings.”

The students nodded; it was pretty much par for the course with every discussion they’d had so far. Supers leaving their remains to science wasn’t unheard of; however, very few of the organizations collecting such corpses were the kind who were willing to share what they uncovered. Even if they were, sometimes the scientists would conclude dissection and study, only to have government agents show up and slap “Classified” on everything they’d just done. Nicholas, as one who specialized in information, understood the necessity for such tactics.

“Of course, one thing you should already know from the assigned reading is that saying we’re going to discuss the anatomy of Supers is like saying we’ll be discussing the anatomy of mammals. Yes, there are shared characteristics, but a kangaroo is as different from an elephant in the way that a strongman is different from a telekinetic,” Professor Lee continued. “On the subject of strongmen, let’s see specimen one one zero two eight seven, who we in the scientific community have dubbed Specimen Strong.”

He pressed a button on the remote near him, bringing up a picture of a sliced open arm. The skin was nearly overflowing with muscle, packed in so densely it was a wonder the epidermis hadn’t split from that pressure.

“Specimen Strong was a Super who died in the eighties,” Professor Lee informed them. “He was not a Hero, despite the fact that independent evaluators determined he likely could have made it through the Hero Certification Program, had he opted to. His power set was standard for his type: enhanced strength and endurance. When they opened him up, which required another Super’s assistance to cut through the skin, they found his whole body to be filled with a dense, powerful muscle. His lifting power, by the way, was estimated to be in the ten-ton range.”

Professor Lee clicked another button, and an illustrated diagram of a brain pulled up. “Additionally, his brain chemistry and neural pathways were different from any recorded human’s. This, as you should know if you did the reading, is one of the few confirmed consistencies in the anatomy of Variant Homo Sapiens. Regardless of their power, their brains are set up differently than a Homo Sapiens’. Sometimes there are glands present we do not possess, sometimes we find unidentified chemicals coating the gray matter, but never do we find a normal human brain when a Super is cut open. Many theorize this to be the source of their powers, which would imply that all of their abilities are the result of altered neurochemistry.”

“But you just said Specimen Strong had those weird muscles,” pointed out a young man in the front row.

“I did, however the question then becomes were those caused by the same condition as his unusual brain, or did the brain create those muscles as part of its variant functions? I realize this seems like a chicken-or-the-egg question, but it does bear mentioning. To illustrate, meet Specimen Fast.”

The slide clicked over again, this time revealing a set of opened up legs. They were, for the most part, what every student expected a set of cut open legs to look like.

“Specimen Fast perished in the nineties, and had the ability of super-speed. What makes him interesting is that despite being able to run over seven hundred miles an hour, his muscles were almost totally normal. There were a few unexpected proteins, but nothing to account for such incredible speed. Additionally, despite his own enhanced endurance granting him the power to survive moving so fast, his skin and bones were chemically identical to a human’s, and only slightly denser.”

The slide projector went off again, bringing up another drawn diagram of a brain, though this one was visibly different from the last.

“Specimen Fast had a brain even more convoluted than Specimen Strong, however. This is why the mind issue is so important, because in several cases the body of Variant Homo Sapiens does not provide any clues as to how they accomplished such incredible feats. Now, even assuming altered brain function, this theory does not explain how Supers casually bend or outright break basic scientific principles. There are colleagues among us who have just decided to say that it's magic, and I don’t fault them for it. Variant Homo Sapiens are as much a mystery to us as the sun, gravity, and thunderstorms were to primitive man. Still, I must believe that with continued research, we will unravel this mystery just as we have solved so many before. Something to keep in mind, when you do tonight’s reading,” Professor Lee concluded. “Class dismissed.”

Books and notepads were hurriedly packed away as the class began to exit. Nicholas Campbell took his time. He still had a few hours until the next class, and he wanted to check in with Eliza and Jerome on Nathaniel’s whereabouts. Evidently the orange-eyed bastard had started attending his classes, although it was at irregular intervals. This distraction was taking time away from his primary puzzle, so Nicholas wanted it dealt with as soon as possible.

He exited the lecture hall, walked purposefully down the tree-shaded sidewalk, and took a moment to enjoy the day. With October only a few days old, the weather had begun to turn cold already. Today, however, a warm front had blown in and heated everything up. People were back in shorts and dresses, knowing full well this would likely be their last chance to dress so casually until spring began its battle against winter’s entrenchment.

Nicholas turned down another sidewalk, intent on heading to grab a quick bite, when he found a beautiful young woman blocking his path. She was clad in a white and pink sundress that would have been unseasonable on any other fall day. Her blonde hair hung below her shoulders, a few stray wisps artfully framing her face, a face that was home to sparkling green eyes and a gorgeous smile. That smile widened as his eyes met hers, and Nicholas felt an unexpected blush try to creep across his skin, as well as a surge of adrenaline race through his veins. He recognized her, of course; she was a prominent person in his files. He just didn’t know why his body was having such a strange reaction to her.

“Hi there,” said the girl, sticking out her hand. “My name is Alice Adair. I wanted to re-introduce myself to you.”