Adam Winter knew the very moment he developed his metagene.
It wasn't really that hard to guess. At least, not in retrospect.
One minute, 'Duke' Dugan, the crown prince of Metro-City High was pounding his fist into Adam's skinny belly, probably snapping a rib or two, and the next minute, all pain went away, even as Duke pulled back his fist, shaking his hand as he howled in outraged indignation.
"What the hell," the bigger, stockier teen howled as he looked at him, his other hand releasing its grip on his collar that had been so tightly wrapped in that big hand that Adam had felt he was being choked half to death atop all else.
Duke proved his intelligence had not earned him his top rankings in the school's elite when he shook off his own surprise and pain, and turned to glower at him anew.
"I don't know how you did that, geekoid, but now you're going to…"
That was the moment everything changed.
Adam felt nothing. Literally, nothing.
Only everyone around them saw Duke's big fist smash into his jaw, which didn't move an inch even as the sound of audibly crunching bone filled their ears.
Duke howled in earnest this time, cradling his injured hand as he stared in stunned disbelief at his hand which had already began to swell and darken ominously, giving grim testimony to the severity of his injury. The big jock, Adam knew, would not be playing for the local team this weekend after all. Not with that hand.
"What….? What the hell….? You…..freak," Duke hissed, backing away as he sputtered helplessly even as Adam held up his own hands, frowning as he casually flexed his small hands. He then put one hand to his jaw.
His no longer even remotely sore jaw.
Everyone seemed to be watching him as he shook his head, then gently probed his stomach. Frowning slightly himself, he lifted his oversized shirt that was one of his older sister's hand-me-downs, and realized three things at once.
First, there wasn't a bruise on him. Not one.
Second, his stomach, thin as ever, now sported surprisingly firm musculature that would have made any professional jock drool in envy.
Third, and even more astonishing was that he really wasn't feeling any pain at all. Not even a twitch when he gently pushed on that area where he knew Duke had to have broken a rib or two just moments ago.
"What the hell," someone asked, and dared move closer to eye him as Adam pulled his shirt down. "Dude, what happened," his best, and likely only friend Tommy asked as the only kid in school possibly skinnier than he was eyed him, and then looked down the hall where Duke was actually fleeing as if faculty had shown up.
"I'm…..not sure," he frowned. "Perhaps….? Perhaps a genetic shift of my metabolic structure, resulting in some dramatic, and unexpected regeneration. Along with….some subsequent augmentation of the base genome?"
"Dude, you are not that smart," Tommy complained. "So when the hell did you start talking like Spock?"
Adam glanced around, saw only the witnesses who could be counted on not to see Duke do his usual 'stand-up' routine with the victim of choice still watching him. Warily.
"I'm going to be late for class," he declared, and squatted down to pick up his scattered books. "I'd better get going."
"Dude, you just broke Duke's fist on your face, and all you're worried about is old man Rogers?"
"It may not be a quality education, but it is still education, and mandatory in seeking better placement in life upon graduation," Adam assured him.
Tommy gaped after him.
Adam felt the same way.
He might be the usual victim of bullies, decried as a geek, or worse. Only he had never been more than an average student. Had none of that stereotypical brainpower, like his older sister. In fact, he had none of their family's gifts. Nor did he seem to have anything else going for him. In fact, he was pretty much as low on the totem as you could get, and still count yourself human.
What had happened?
He suspected he knew once he paused to think about it.
"Adam Winter, report to the office. Adam Winter. Office, please," the secretary's voice over the intercom cut into his thoughts before he even reached his classroom.
He sighed, and changed his direction midstep.
He suspected that Duke had already sought vindication elsewhere, and was still trying to make…..an impact.
His eyes narrowed as he found himself mentally evaluating all the ways this latest session with the principal could, or would go.
To his astonishment, he felt none of the usual trepidation or fear he usually felt as he mentally reviewed his own options with a meticulous indifference that he knew was very unlike himself.
He glanced back at Tommy, who still gaped at him, and gave a faint smirk as he told him," Tell Mr. Rogers I shall likely be indefinitely delayed."
Then headed for the office.
Tommy just stared as the others around him gawked, too, most of them still yet to comprehend exactly what they had just seen.
Adam looked up from the book he was reading in rather swift time, to eye the man in the dark navy suit who had just entered the office.
"So, you're the one that will be taking me off to some secret lab for the usual experiments," he asked bitingly. "You made good time," he added, knowing he had only been sitting in the office ten minutes since the principal found him unwilling to accept blame for the 'incident.'
"Hardly, son. I'm Agent Dillon Connors," he said, and held out what looked like a plastic badge. "I'm currently posted as a site liaison with the government. I scout for potential metas. Then I offer them….guidance, possible training, and maybe a chance at contributing to a greater cause. Or even the chance to join….."
"I'm not into teams," Adam cut him off. "So far as I can tell, most of them are glorified jocks, anyway."
"Considering why I'm here, I think I can guess what you think of them, too," Dillon smiled, and sat on the chair next to his outside the principal's office. "My major point here, Adam, is that you are not alone here. A lot of people go through what you are now."
"Let's be honest here, sir. How many high school losers do you know that suddenly gain what I have apparently gained here? The only reason you're even here is because I know enough of my actual rights to challenge that bureaucrat that fancies himself a football fan in there," he said, nodding toward the principal's office who was still chafing over his atypical stand against him and Dugan this time.
"Some things don't change, I think we both know. As long as there have been schools, there have been bullies, and victims," Dillon began again.
Adam's expression was telling.
"Are you really going to try the sympathy card now," he asked the agent.
"The point is, you've been given a gift. You are one of those that have taken a new step on an evolutionary path that not everyone can take. The question now is, how will you use that gift you've been given?"
"In short, am I going to pound on my former tormentors? Go mad with the ecstasy of power, and exploit and manipulate my abilities for my own personal gain? I assure you, Agent Connors, I no more want to be a…..bully, than I do a jock. I just want to finish school, and live a normal life."
"That may not be entirely possible for you now," he admitted.
Adam nodded back, still secretly astonished that he was so calm next to a guy that could likely put him away for life if he wanted to try.
"Only because the current president is a self-serving control freak who forced that meta-registration act down everyone's throat a while back. And only so he could use metas as his private assassins."
"That's just anti-gov propa…"
"Do not insult my intelligence, sir," Adam cut him off, just as he had Mr. Sands when the fat man who ran the school actually tried to blame him for Duke bullying him. Along with all that subsequently happened. He was even babbling about arrest, and criminal charges when Adam had abruptly invoked his own rights, and suggested they call the police for an objective investigation into Duke's antics.
Neither the principal, nor Duke, wanted that.
Cue the call to the Feds.
"Listen, Adam," Dillon's tone took a harder edge. "I don't think you fully understand the gravity of your circumstances…."
"I think I understand all too well. Only I'm not anyone's windup toy soldier. I haven't broken any laws. Nor do I intend to do so. Therefore, you may leave. I don't need you, or your dubious favors. Goodbye."
Dillon stood back up, reached for a radio on his belt, and thumbed the transmission button.
"Hostile meta on site," he reported curtly, his eyes now cold, and unfriendly. "I say again….."
"It's not working," Adam told him with a faint smirk.
Adam still smirked at the man who thumbed his radio, in vain, and then eyed him suspiciously.
"What did you do," he hissed in accusation.
"Nothing," Adam shook his head at him as the man actually backed away. "I can simply see that you haven't switched the RF gain over to compensate for the school's microwave satellite receivers. Old school analog radio doesn't do well with digital receivers in the area. I thought even you government types knew that much," he smiled.
Dillon frowned, and adjusted his radio which burst to life with a loud crackle of static as the office secretary just watched from her seat without a single word of comment.
Dillon now looked down at the lanky boy who sat calmly on the chair, and still wasn't moving.
"You're not going to do anything?"
"Why? I'm not the one breaking the law," he shrugged.
"Not breaking…." The agent scowled bleakly, then seemed to psyche himself up as he all but barked, "You're an unregistered meta who refuses to cooperate," the agent cut off the sputtering Evan Sands who was watching from a distance across the office at his door.
"No. I'm a newly awakened meta who has not been given the chance to register, or consider any other options beyond your own overt threats, or coercion."
"You still give us no choice. You're coming with us, or we will take you," the man spat as Principal Sands just stood there in his own doorway staring. Not saying a word as he eyed him like he would a very nasty bug.
"No," Adam told him calm as ever. "I think you have overlooked a third option."
"Oh," the man asked condescendingly now.
"Yes. I wait here for my mother, whom I've already called, and who is already on her way."
"Your mother isn't going to be able to…"
The woman that walked into the office as if on cue just then was not what the agent expected.
"Adam," the tall, voluptuous brunette asked as she fixed her gleaming blue eyes on him the moment she entered the office. "What now?"
"In short? Apparently, I've acquired an active metagene after all. Duke Dugan broke his hand on my jaw, prompting Mr. Sands to threaten me with assault. This was, naturally, just before Agent Collins here showed up, and demanded I become a state assassin for that tyrant in the White House who thinks he's a god among men," he stated dryly.
Dillon Connors sputtered as the principal just groaned, and the woman eyed both men in turn. She then turned back to her son without saying a word to either of them.
"What do you think you've gotten, son?"
"I'm not entirely sure as yet, mother," he told her. "It did just manifest."
"Mrs. Winter," the man flashed his ID. "Your son is an unregistered….."
"You. Shut up," the woman growled at him, looking down her nose at him. "You," she turned to the principal. "Advise Mr. Dugan he has crossed the line one time too many. I will be bringing charges against him this time on behalf of my son, and naming you, and the school board as culpable if you do not actually grow a pair, and admit what kind of environment you've been fostering here for those Neanderthals you call athletes."
"Now, see here….!"
"Mrs. Winter," Dillon sputtered on. "I don't think you understand how serious….."
"No," Amanda Winter flashed a card of her own. "I don't think you do. Ms. Amanda J. Winter. Justice League legal rep, and liaison for the Midwest."
"Oh…..hell," the man rasped even as the men he had radioed earlier only now stormed the office. All five men in body armor all pointed weapons at the mother and son.
"See what I mean," Adam sighed, and looked up from his chair without batting an eye.
Amanda Winter only smiled.
It was not the kind of smile Dillon liked seeing on a pretty face at any time.
"Do you really want to do this," Amanda asked Dillon who was about to bark an order even as one of the men made the choice for him. He fired a tazer rifle point-blank at her, and then howled as the blast somehow reflected back at him, hitting him full in the throat where his armor did not protect him.
"Oops," Amanda drawled, lowering an arm, where the silver gleam of slender band adorned her wrist. "Sorry. But….accidents do happen when you play with guns."
"She's Amazon, you idiots," Dillon told the rest of the team even as he only then made the connection himself. "Do you really think you can….?"
Dillon froze, staring at Adam again, but it was the principal exclaimed, "You're Amazon's son? But…? But…. But…."
"Intelligent response, isn't it," Adam asked as Dillon just shook his head as if confused. Adam finally stood as he spoke, going to stand beside his mother.
"I didn't think you Amazons got married," Evan Sands protested as he stared himself.
"Don't believe all the popular tripe you hear about my sisterhood, Mr. Sands. Come, Adam. I believe we have a date with a sympathetic judge."
She turned to the door, paused, and looked back at Dillon.
"And my Justice League contacts."
Dillon swallowed hard.
Adam shot him a dry smirk, then followed his mother out of the room.
"Why didn't you tell me his mother was that Amanda Winter," Dillon hissed at the school principal.
"How was I to know," the man wailed, looking at the still unconscious man on his office floor.
Dillon scowled, and snapped at the other men around him, barking, "Get him out of here. And send him back to training. Moron."
He stormed out, followed by his men, and tried to conjure a way to not have this look like a complete screw-up. The government was, in fact, very interested in harvesting new metas of late. The administration felt that the younger the better, but having one show up like this? One directly connected to the Justice League? The grandson of the famed Wonder Woman herself? This was going to blow up in their faces for certain. It also certainly gave credence to the wrong people that their growing belief that the new government administration was actively conscripting metas, willing, or not, was true.
Something that had been kept under the radar for the most part.
Damn locals. This was supposed to have been a simple scoop. Instead, they managed to tip off one of the biggest anti-gov heroines in that annoying League.
Damn, damn, damn, Dillon swore silently as he headed for his car.
He just knew this was going on his record. He just knew it.
Adam looked up at the two figures that walked into the clinic where he sat waiting.
He still found it astonishing how quickly his life had changed. How quickly, and how dramatically.
First, his mother had taken him to a judge to hear his story, and managed to get the complete tale out before the government spin doctors could fashion their own media cover. The subsequent press release covered all the reasons Amanda was taking her son out of an obviously unsafe academic environment. Even before they headed for the local League transporter, the outrage over apparently institutionally-sponsored bullying still present in public education was growing anew.
Neither of them felt it would do any real good in the long run. It just made for a good political diversion at the moment.
After the judge, and the press, his mother then brought Adam to the League's own highly secure orbital station where only a very select few could even gain access these days.
There, the famed, and seemingly ageless Martian J'onn J'onzz himself conducted a full physical, including a rather meticulous genetic assessment of Adam as he waited patiently for whatever was to be learned. Or done.
After the tests, the Martian had left, and now, just ten minutes later, the two most legendary figures in League history stood in front of him. Both true immortals. Both champions that transcended nations, or politics.
Both, his grandparents. A secret even he and his sister had kept for years.
"Grandfather," he nodded at the tall, imposing figure next to his grandmother Diana. "Or do you favor me using Kal-El here," he asked the legendary hero who wore only a dark blue bodysuit with a red sigil that slashed across his chest. The older, more colorful costume was long gone. So was the cape.
"Grandfather will be fine, Adam," the hero told him with a smile. "I'm told you've had quite the day."
"You could say so," he drawled.
"You seem quite composed considering," Diana murmured, still in her Amazonian costume that had not changed much at all over the years.
He gave a faint blush, knowing just what she meant. Not that he hadn't blushed the first time he realized that Diana Prince really was his grandmother, and his mother had once been an equally celebrated heroine before she took semi-retirement to work more as a liaison than an active heroine.
Before now, though, Adam was the sort to hide from the world. And his troubles. He certainly wasn't so unruffled at his best, though. Yet, oddly enough, since that moment back in school when he realized he had changed, he felt…..serene.
"I know," he went on with a faint smile at his ageless grandmother. "All of this is….is quite unusual," he allowed as they walked over to stand before him, his mother coming in behind them. "Yet, it feels….natural. Which is weird in itself," he admitted.
"You should know," Diana told him. "J'onn thinks your….metagene isn't finished with you."
"No," he asked.
"Have you noticed anything beyond the obvious?"
"Well, other than the fact I'm now starting to grow breasts," Adam asked with a wry query.
"Right," Amanda drawled, wondering if her son had noticed that, or not, from the way he wasn't reacting.
"Indeed," Diana murmured. "Amazons, as you know, are possessed of a degree of divine magic. Your mother and I more than most. Obviously, that magic is somehow reacting with your metagene, and changing you in….unexpected ways."
"So…. I'm going to become a….a genetic female?"
"No. Based on the initial test results, J'onn thinks you're only becoming hermaphroditic," Amanda told him somberly.
He eyed his mother.
"That is not really reassuring, mother," he sighed ruefully, thinking of all the issues that one would raise with his peers.
"There is more."
He looked back at Kal-El now, and nodded.
"I guessed as much. I already noticed I had healed instantly, without pain, and my intelligence seemed to have dramatically increased in the same instant. So, what else," he asked as blandly as ever.
"I suspect there is more, Adam, because I think you are manifesting my own divine gifts," Diana told her. "In a way not even your mother ever managed. The wisdom of Athena, for instance."
"Ah," he nodded in understanding.
"The strength of Zeus," Diana went on. "The speed of Hermes, and even, I suspect, Hestia's gift of Truth. Even your senses will likely sharpen in time. Perhaps even to rival my own. In time, you may well become my equal based on what J'onn has learned," Diana told him.
Adam just stared in silence at that declaration.
"That said, you present a dilemma," Kal told him.
"Obviously. The government…."
"Man's world means nothing to you as of now," Diana declared flatly as she cut him off, now using her 'royalty' tone. "You are, however, the offspring of an Amazon. By law and tradition, every Amazon returns to Themyscira for proper training when they are of age."
"Only I'm not a female," Adam stated quietly as he eyed his grandmother. "At least, not yet."
"Nor are you likely to become one in truth," Amanda told him, now wearing her own 'costume' that was a cross between Kal's bodysuit, and her mother's Amazonian colors. Since she was their own child, it didn't surprise anyone that knew the truth.
Unlike the timeless heroes, Amanda was one of the few that walked openly before others, not caring that her 'identity' was known, but giving no hint to her own parentage beyond the obvious Amazonian bloodline. Kal-El had yet to be revealed as anyone's parent, and it was a family secret that all concerned felt necessary.
"I'm going to speak to my mother," Diana told him.
"Queen Hippolyta will have to decide how we are to proceed. Obviously, you are now more than ready to train. Your….unique status, however, will make for a curious dilemma I'm sure might boggle even the queen's mind," Amanda agreed with a faint smile.
Adam, who had often heard of his maternal great-grandmother, though he had yet to meet her, didn't argue.
"And in the meantime," he asked them.
"You stay here, and let J'onn keep an eye on you, and offer you some….initial training," Kal-El told him pointedly.
"You know, I really don't want to join….anyone's team," he daringly told Kal-El.
"A demonstration," Amanda suggested to them as they all just regarded Adam casually as he sat there.
"Absolutely," Diana nodded her agreement.
"Son," Amanda barked.
Adam turned, and instinctively caught the metal beaker his mother threw his way.
"Look at it," Amanda told him as he instinctively caught it in one hand.
Adam looked down, and gasped.
The metal was a misshapen mass in his hands, crushed as easily as he might have once wadded paper.
"You need to learn…. To relearn your own body, and strength," Diana told him firmly. "Trust me, you need to properly harness your strength, or you might find yourself becoming a threat to those around you without meaning to be."
"I…..see," he rasped, carefully setting the metal blob aside, and looking as stunned as he felt nothing when he had caught the apparently fragile beaker.
If he had reacted earlier at school, lost control like those agents had obviously expected, Duke might not even have survived to complain.
"You're right," he slowly nodded at them. "I still don't want to join any teams, but….. I don't want to hurt anyone either."
"Mother will certainly love you. A true pacifist," Diana chortled.
Adam said nothing to that.
To Be Continued…