His eyes blinked open as he awoke from his meditative state. His pupils widened within the center his distinctively purple irises. He could feel a familiar chaos growing from somewhere in the United States. It was what he had been searching for—for decades he had been searching—and now it was hear.
The key to his redemption.
Bryan James cleared his desk of all its clutter by sliding his arm across the surface, sending notebooks and flash drives crashing onto the floor. He’d finally gotten his hands on what he needed to become special.
Bryan was an eleventh grade high school student at East Cleveland High. His parents had always stressed to him the importance of focusing on his studies and doing well in school so that one day he could become a world-renowned doctor, lawyer, engineer, or whatever other highly paid profession he wanted to pursue. Bryan had taken those words to heart and made sure that he used his brilliant mind to stay at the top of his class.
Few of the other kids ever seemed to appreciate Bryan’s brilliance. They recognized him as “the smartest kid in the class,” but he found it very hard to connect with any of them as peers. His mother tried to tell him they acted that way because they were intimidated by his advanced intellect, but Bryan didn’t fully buy that. He was short and scrawny, and neither athletic nor creative. His brown hair was always a mess because he never took the time to style it. He had plain green eyes, and in a time where it was now considered “hip” to wear thick rimmed glasses, he had been cursed with perfect vision. Beyond that he was always stuck wearing whatever outdated clothing his mother purchased for him on her bi-weekly trips to the mall with his Aunt Joyce, and as far as he was concerned neither women had any sense of style.
The only thing he was any good at was remembering facts and formulas, and unless one of his classmates needed the answer to a homework problem, he may as well not have existed. They didn’t even have the common courtesy to pick on him—they simply ignored him. He was invisible.
That was all about to change today.
He reached into his bag and pulled out a dark purple helmet with what looked like black veins running through it. The outer design of the helmet contained a number of bumps and ridges causing it to bear a striking resemblance to the human brain. The texture was gooey, yet solid enough to maintain its shape when left untouched. Two small pegs stuck out of either end like handles.
Bryan carefully set the helmet down on his desk before dropping down to the floor and reaching under his bed. He pulled out an old car battery and jumper cables. This would be all he needed to complete his science project.
When he was only eight years old his hometown of Cleveland had been faced with a great threat. Someone had managed to dig tunnels from Lake Erie underneath the city without being detected. This caused enough water to build up beneath the city that it made the ground very unstable. One by one neighborhoods and city blocks began to collapse as the ground beneath them sunk into the Earth. The government had done a pretty good job at covering up who exactly was behind the attack, but it was no secret who had stopped them.
This was the first time Bryan had been formerly introduced to superheroes. Major Justice and his team of super powered protectors of the innocent had come to Cleveland and fought off whatever evil was digging the tunnels beneath the city—then managed to return all of the water back to the lake and fill in the holes left by the mysterious terrorists, restoring Cleveland to its geologically stable self.
The news was flooded with the faces and heroic stories of the super people, and Bryan could not take his eyes off of them. Not only did these heroes possess superior physical strength and noble hearts, they were crazy smart as well. There were scientists on the super team who had managed to devise an ingenious way to replace the unstable water beneath the city with firm Earth. Following the event, every kid in Cleveland learned about it in both history and geology class. It was in those classes that Bryan came to truly understand the significance of the super team’s feat in a way he never could when he was just a little kid.
Bryan collected all of the superheroes’ action figures and lunch boxes. His bedroom walls were littered with the posters of his favorites. He had even gone to the midnight premiere of every one of the movies that were based off of the team’s adventures. They were not only the world’s greatest heroes, they were his personal heroes, and he would have given anything to be one of them.
Bryan’s attention wasn’t the only that the heroes had garnered. Everyone was always watching them, cheering them on and reveling in their god-like abilities. Even eight years after the fact, the citizens of Cleveland still looked up to and admired those heroes—and their city wasn’t the only one the team had saved. Major Justice and his team had saved dozens of cities, countries, and the entire planet at least a hundred times over. They were the greatest team of heroes the world had ever seen.
And it was all because of their super powers. The more Bryan learned about these heroes, the more he realized that no matter how hard he studied and how much knowledge he absorbed he would never achieve that level of recognition and respect as long as he didn’t have a power of his own. Major Justice and his team were only the first group of super humans to burst onto the scene. After their rise to fame there were constantly rumors floating around of more and more people developing super powers. Just last year he had heard a story about a graduate student in Akron developing the power of super speed after an accident in which the student was mixing chemicals in the chemistry lab during an electrical storm. There were even reports that the team of heroes that had saved Cleveland was building a city in a remote location so they could recruit people with super powers and invite them to live separately from the general population.
Bryan had made it his personal goal to find a way to develop a power of his own—and he had finally found it. Every year his school offered a select few students the opportunity to enroll in college classes at the nearby university in order to get a head start and earn some college credits before graduating high school. Bryan jumped at the opportunity, enrolling in a biology and anatomy classes, hoping they might give him some insight into how to alter his body chemistry in order to develop super power of his own. Unfortunately the classes he was enrolled in were all introductory—designed to cater to young individuals considering a career in science or medicine and not those trying to develop super powers. Instead Bryan was forced to sit through hour long lectures on subjects in which he was already very knowledgeable. He unfortunately learned nothing that could be used to his advantage.
That was until one afternoon when Bryan was on his way out of biology class and noticed a neurology lab taking place inside one of the other classrooms. Inside the room he saw what looked like a purple helmet sitting on top of the professor’s counter with bright lights traveling through it. Discreetly, Bryan snuck into the room to sit in on the rest of the lecture.
When he got closer, Bryan realized that the helmet resembled the outer membrane of the human brain. The peculiar substance it was made out of was a type of conductive gel, designed to simulate synapses being fired in the brain when hooked up to an electrical charge. The professor explained that it was of his own unique design—the only one ever created. It needed only to be hooked up to a small power source. For this particular lab demonstration, the professor had attached a thin coil to each peg on either side of the mock brain. The coils were then attached to a small battery pack on the opposite end of the desk. Each time the professor flipped a switch on the battery pack, brief streaks of electrical current would begin flashing inside of it.
When it came time for questions, Bryan immediately raised his hand. The professor’s expression suggested that he didn’t recognize the boy who looked too young to be a college student, but he was willing to entertain his question anyway.
“What would happen if you hooked it up to a larger power source?” Bryan asked.
The professor paced around the front of his lab counter as he answered Bryan’s question. A thick grey mustache bounced up and down on his upper lip as he spoke. “Well the material I’ve made it out of is very conductive. If the power supply was too strong—such as a car battery—well…I’m not really sure because I haven’t tried it. I wouldn’t recommend it though.”
“What if you put it on your head?” Bryan inquired further.
The professor stopped pacing and lightly chuckled along with the other students in the lab who were still alert enough for Bryan’s question to register. “The brain is very sensitive to electrical impulses, and that much current passing through your skull, well…let’s just say I wouldn’t recommend that either. Not unless you want your brain chemistry severely altered anyway.”
The professor quickly moved on to another student’s question as soon as he had finished answering Bryan’s, but that was all Bryan needed to hear. He in fact did want to alter his brain chemistry. He wanted that very much.
Once the lab was over, Bryan stood out in the hallway and observed the professor speaking with some of his students on their way out of the lab. Once the final student had left the lab, the professor detached the coils from his purple brain and carried it with him as he picked his keys up off of the lab computer’s keyboard, shut off the lights, and closed the door behind him. Bryan followed the professor as he walked through the hallway, trying not to look too suspicious. Luckily a group of other students was also headed in the same direction which happened to lead to the parking lot at the rear of the building. Halfway down the dimly lit hallway the professor stopped and used the biggest key on his key ring to unlock the door to what appeared to be his office. Bryan glanced over for a brief second as he saw the professor set the purple brain helmet down in the center of his desk, and continued walking until he was out the door.
The very next day after school, Bryan rode his bike to the scrapyard a few miles away from his house. He bargained with a guy there to sell him a used but still functional battery out of an old Nissan for twenty bucks. He honestly had no idea whether it was a good deal or not, but it was what he had so he took it. He later stole the jumper cables from the wall of his dad’s garage and hid them with the battery under his bed until he could get the helmet.
The following week he left his biology class early so that he could catch the professor of the neurology lab before it started. When he arrived at the lab, he found the older professor chatting with some of his students at the front of the room.
“Excuse me,” Bryan called to the professor, realizing for the first time that he didn’t know his name. The professor looked up at Bryan, surprised to see the young man again.
“Professor Franz wants to speak with you in room 101,” Bryan lied.
The lab professor excused himself from his conversation with his students and walked out of the room. Room 101 was on the opposite side of the building—hopefully it would buy Bryan enough time to pull off the heist.
After the neurology prof left the room, Bryan quickly made his way to the counter at the front of it. As he neared the computer sitting on the counter, he glanced around the room to see who might be watching him. To no surprise each of the students seemed more concerned with what their phones had to say than what was happening in the room around them. As smoothly as he could, Bryan swiped the professor’s keys off of the keyboard and darted out of the lab.
As quickly as he could move without breaking into a run, Bryan made his way to the professor’s office. He made it there in 15.4 seconds. Hurriedly, he found the largest key on the ring and slid it into the door lock. He turned it and heard the sound of the door unlocking. He quickly turned the brass knob and swung the door open.
His heart stopped as he looked at the professor’s desk and saw that the purple brain was no longer there. He twisted his neck so fast that it almost gave him whiplash as he scanned the rest of the small office. He exhaled with relief as he turned to his left and saw the model brain on the filing cabinet in the corner. He tossed the keys onto the desk and grabbed the brain, sliding it into his backpack. He left the keys on the desk and the door open as he scurried out of the office. There was no way he would be able to beat the professor back to the lab, and once the mustached man noticed his keys were missing the jig was up.
Bryan glanced over his shoulder every half-second as he hurried his way to the exit. As he pushed the fire door open and stepped outside he had still not seen the professor come around the corner at the other end of the hallway. The heist had been successful.
During the entire bike ride home Bryan was paranoid about being stopped by the police. He took every side street and back alley possible. Thankfully he made it home without any incident.
He was giddy with excitement as he hooked the red and black alligator clips to the positive and negative terminals on the batteries. Once that was completed he gently slid the purple brain helmet onto his head. He turned to his left and looked at himself in the mirror, fully understanding the enormous risk he was taking by doing this. The likelihood that he would walk away from this with permanent brain damage seemed far greater than him actually gaining super powers, but his whole life he had been the smartest person he knew and that wasn’t enough to get people to recognize him. He was small and his imagination was average at best. A super power was the only thing left that would separate him from all the losers of the world. He was tired of being invisible.
He glanced up from his mirror at the life-size poster of his favorite superhero—The Insider. He smiled at the thought of being the former hero’s successor at the Assembly of Superheroes. Bryan needed to be noticed the way The Insider was. The dangers were worth the risk.
Carefully, he clamped the cable attached to the negative terminal on the battery to the left peg on the brain helmet. He paused and took a nervous breath as he lifted the positively charged red clamp toward the peg sticking out the right side of the helmet. This was it—He was going to walk away from this with an extraordinary super power or possibly die trying.
He held the positive clamp open over the peg, and on the count of three, let go.
Sparks immediately flew from both the battery and the helmet as the charge from the battery began surging through the model brain on Bryan’s head. The once purple helmet was now glowing with a bright white light, beaming out from it in every direction. The heat of the charge burned the top of Bryan’s scalp. He tried to scream but found himself unable. His entire body was paralyzed. The light from the helmet could be seen from outside the house. It was almost as though the gel-like material of the fake brain was somehow intensifying the charge from the battery. His eyes rolled to the back of his head as he felt the electric current begin to surge through his entire body. He could actually feel his brain cells being warped from the immense current.