Harry Goldberg looked over her shoulder as Crystal wrote some things in a notebook, fiddled with some beakers and test tubes, paged through a huge science textbook of some kind, and typed some information into her laptop. They were set up in an old lab that the University of Toronto wasn't using anymore. It would have to do for now.
"What exactly are you doing?" he asked, curious.
Crystal didn't glance up from her computer screen. "Research," she replied.
Brenda was sitting next to Crystal, fiddling with an electronic gadget the size of her thumb. Harry didn't even bother to ask what it was for. He had watched hundreds of brilliant minds at work, and though he considered himself to be educated and informed, a part of him lusted for the level of brilliance which these two minds contained. He would never be smart enough to understand what they were doing, never mind come up with it. The thought made him feel old and dumb.
Crystal finished typing with a sound tap on the spacebar and turned to face him. "Anything I can help you with?"
Harry looked up, startled by the colour of her green eyes. Before now, he had only seen her in the dimly lit airplane. Her skin was smooth and rather pale, her reddish-brown hair tied up in a simple ponytail. Except for the lab coat, she looked nothing like how one would expect a mad scientist to appear.
"Uh, yes," he stammered, "I was wondering exactly what it is that Mr. Verell has to work with. We know the basic information, but you know exactly what he stole."
Crystal smiled grimly. "I had mostly been working on controlled gravitational resistance - teaching rats to fly. But I did have a couple of blueprints for some other ideas - light refraction, telekinesis, infrared and x-ray technology. Luckily I also left some of those notes at home by accident, so he's only working with half the puzzle pieces."
"Wait, wait, wait." Harry held up his hand to stop her. "You were working on making people invisible, giving them x-ray vision and moving things with their minds?"
"You got it."
"What was the plan for this project? To create superheroes?"
Crystal grinned, revealing beautifully straight teeth, and a sparkle lit her emerald eyes. "It's a long story," she said. "It began as the Compensation Project. It was funded by War Amps to help amputees and individuals with other unique challenges. We built prosthetics and super wheel-chairs, but then I suggested to Vanden - I mean Mr. Verell - that we go one or two steps further and make up for the loss of these patients.
"Instead of giving a paraplegic a wheelchair, why not give her the ability to move herself and other things with her mind? Instead of doing hundreds of plastic surgeries on a burn victim, why not give him the ability to make certain scarred cells invisible to the naked eye? The suggestion had been half joke, but Mr. Verell loved it! He told me to get started right away, and there was no way I could refuse. I mean, who wouldn't want to get paid for creating real-life superheroes? I guess he had realized he could steal my findings and use them for his own agenda."
Harry was taken aback. "This is fascinating. So that rat," he pointed to Flyer, who nibbled on a piece of potato on the counter beside the textbook, "he can do what?"
Crystal picked him up and held him in the air, at waist height. Then she took her hand away. "This is Flyer," she announced, "my most successful superhero so far." Flyer remained hovering in the air, sniffing the breeze. "I also modify their brains a bit, to make them more intelligent and more useful and better at learning to fly," she explained matter-of-factly.
It was all Harry could to to keep from gasping. "WOAH!" the teenager in him wanted to shout. "That is most remarkable!" he said instead.
Brenda, who had ignored them until now, looked up from her gadgets. "Showoff," she teased. Crystal defiantly stuck her tongue out towards her friend.
Then again, Harry thought while containing a chuckle, maybe geniuses aren't that different.