Chapter 7

Nicholas Campbell’s first day was a far cry from what the HCP students were experiencing. No shattering revelations, no future-determining decisions; really the greatest challenge he’d faced was finding something remotely palatable in the dorm cafeteria come lunch time. He could have raced home to grab a sandwich, however he’d built his schedule in such a way that his Tuesdays and Thursdays left little to no free time, giving him an abundance of it on the other three weekdays. It was a move many college students were familiar with, though most of them struggled with it a good bit more than Nicholas had to. His classes were, for the most part, some variation of math or business related to his major, subject matter he’d been intimately familiar with since he was old enough to sit and watch someone deal cards.

There was one exception in his line-up, a class he’d taken ostensibly to satisfy a science credit, but truthfully had been chosen primarily out of curiosity. It was the type of course no member of the HCP would dare be seen in, despite the relevance of its subject matter. After all, if you were looking for Supers, wouldn’t you start in a class that centered on them?

“Good afternoon,” greeted the professor, a slight statured man with thinning brown hair. “My name is Professor Lee, and this is Theoretical Physiology of Variant Homo Sapiens. My TAs are walking around with a syllabus and I’ve started a roll sheet on the first row. Pass it along, please. I realize many professors at our institutions don’t bother taking attendance, but I am not one of them. Showing up is part of the curriculum, and I expect you to fulfill it just as you would any paper or test.”

There was ample squirming through the sizable room as many of the students hoping for a blow-off class were disappointed. The room was a smaller-than-average lecture hall with tiered seating, students only filling a little over half the seats. Due to either subject matter or perceived difficulty, this had never been a class with a waiting list for entry.

“Now, for those of you I lost with all that fancy terminology, this is a course dedicated to the discussion of what we currently know about the humans commonly referred to as Supers, specifically the difference in their anatomy. There is no text book, and there is notably limited required reading, because despite Supers having been among us for over fifty years we still have very little cumulative knowledge about what makes them different.”

A hand went up near the front. Nicholas expected the professor to ignore it, but evidently this happened often enough for him to have accepted it as part of the class. The older man pointed to the student, signaling him to speak.

“I thought Supers were the same as us, genetically. That’s why no one has ever been able to artificially create one.”

“You’re not wrong,” Professor Lee said. “But you also aren’t right. The ‘same as us’ is a misnomer in itself. If everyone had the exact same genetic code then things like DNA testing wouldn’t work. We have a general code we all fall into, Supers and Powereds included, but within that spectrum of similarity there are also countless differences that contribute to things like your hair color, which hand is dominant, various diseases, and the ability to lift a truck overhead. We know what does a lot of those things, but no one has figured out the variation that causes Supers to exist.”

The professor paused to see if anyone else needed clarification, however either they all got it or his first explanation had been too intimidating to inspire more curiosity. He swung by the podium and grabbed a drink of water, then continued.

“As to why there is so little reading on this course, I don’t want you all to get the idea that no one has explored this subject matter. Quite the opposite actually. There are endless terabytes of data out there on the physical makeup of Supers. The problem is that the research is largely conducted by private corporations with no inclination to share, and even what is done in the public sector is subject to serious government censorship.”

Another brave student found the gumption to raise her hand. After a nod from Professor Lee she went ahead.

“Why would they do that? Isn’t this something that everyone would be interested in?”

“They don’t share for the same reason that The Manhattan Project didn’t send Germany regular updates on what they were doing. Right now, as we speak, a great race is taking place in labs across the world. You, and I, and everyone in this room, unless they are Super themselves, wake up every day with the knowledge that there are people out there who can do things we never will. No amount of effort or moxy will allow me to levitate off this floor under my own willpower. Some of you might be at peace with that, but the mass of humanity is not. As a species it is not in our nature to acclimate to being second best. So, imagine that tomorrow some company comes out with a new chemical compound that could alter you, give you abilities you never had before. What would you pay to be better than human?”

The class grew silent as each student looked inside themselves and realized they would indeed pay a tremendous amount to be one of the few in the world with extraordinary powers.

“And that’s just one aspect of it,” Professor Lee continued. “Imagine being able to control the abilities given. You could create a private security firm of a few thousand that was capable of besting any army in the world. What if they were to locate the difference between Powereds and Supers? How many unfortunate souls do you think would trade their life savings to go from worse than normal to better? No, the reason research is so hard to come by in this field is that, until the code is cracked, the scientific community is on what might be the greatest treasure hunt in all of known history. Still, we do have a few smatterings of knowledge; enough to make sure you all leave this class smarter than you entered it, at least.”

Professor Lee picked up a syllabus and began going over it with the class, but up in the top left row one student was barely paying attention. The professor could scarcely have chosen better words to seize the attention of Nicholas Campbell than “treasure hunt,” and right now that brain of his was caught up in all the unseen possibilities of what he knew and so few others didn’t: one company was closer than anyone else to finding that chest of intellectual doubloons.