The room was sparse, poorly lit and had three distinct features. First, the table in the middle. Second, the chairs, both on one side of the table. Third, the reflective sheet of glass in one wall of the room next to a barely visible door. Opposite the room’s two chairs Matthew Sykes sat in a chair of his own. Not the rather absurd, overbuilt, motorized electric chair that had served as his court of last resort during the struggle for Waltham Towers but rather the simple leather and metal wheelchair that had served as the prop for a masquerade lasting nearly ten years until the sham had somehow turned into the truth.
Whatever thoughts might have been going through the mind of Sykes in that melancholy room had their progress halted when Double Helix pushed into the room, the door behind him swinging closed on well oiled hinges. Practically the only sound in the room as Helix walked over to the table was the sound of him turning the pages of the enormous file he carried. Finally Helix plopped it down on the table with a soft but forceful thud and sat in one of the open chairs. He prodded the file with one finger. “You know, we usually pad these to make them more intimidating? But yours didn’t need any work. Everything in there is an actual document produced during the course of investigating you over the past ten years.”
Sykes glanced at the file then back at Helix. “I’m guessing you wrote at least half of that.”
“More or less.” Helix folded his hands on top of the file and stared hard at Sykes.
The silence stretched out, neither man seeming particularly uncomfortable with it. Helix looked the other man over repeatedly, as if looking for something and repeatedly failing to find it. Sykes was more interested in the file, studying the bulging manila folder as if he could see through it and read the information within.
Finally after a good two or three minutes Sykes looked Helix in the eye and asked, “Should you really be doing this alone?”
“No.” Helix leaned back in his chair, the back resting against the wall. “But then, should you really have spent a decade running roughshod over the US?”
“Two wrongs don’t make a right.” Helix laughed, real amusement in his voice. Sykes frowned. “It wasn’t that funny.”
“Sorry. Irony is a personal thing, probably no one else on the planet that would laugh at that.” Helix tilted forward again, still smirking. “Tell you what. This isn’t on record, although there are some people out there,” he jerked a thumb towards the glass, “who would like some answers. And I’d like them, too.”
Sykes’ head jerked momentarily towards the one way mirror, then back to Helix. “Elizabeth is here?”
“Just the psychologist we’re thinking of assigning you in prison,” Helix replied. “So level with us, Circuit. What possesses a man to try and overthrow the government single handedly? You never struck me as the ideological type. Was it glory?”
“It was my parents.”
“The Sykes? Or your biological parents. The…” Helix flipped the folder open and started looking through it.
“My adoptive parents,” Sykes clarified.
Helix twitched the file closed again. “Go on.”
“It’s hard to explain what it’s like.” Sykes looked down at the table for a moment, absently dragging his thumb back and forth along the armrest of his chair. “The system isn’t a place for kids. Foster homes… you never feel like anyone really wants you there and hiding the fact that you can touch the TV to feel that it’s practically alive doesn’t help things. When Daniel and Martha came and took me out of that place I was more grateful than I’d ever been in my life.”
Helix tossed the file aside, braced his elbows on the table and leaned forward. “And that drove you to try and rule the world?”
The shadow of a smile brushed across Sykes’ face. “When I asked him why he wanted to adopt a kid Daniel told me that he’d been pretty successful and he wanted to pay it forward. Since he and Martha couldn’t have kids they decided to find one to share with. Then he told me that sooner or later I’d probably want to do the same, and when the time came I’d know how I wanted to do it.”
“This still doesn’t sound like the foundation for megalomania.”
“I took them flying because Martha really wanted to try it. There was a cloud… probably a small rainstorm brewing. I’d been through clouds before but there was more charge that time than there’d ever been before. It…” Sykes waved his hands ambiguously. “That was the first time I realized I could be a living lightning rod.”
Helix sat back in his chair, a little thunderstruck himself. “That’s why your plane crashed and there was no records of what happened. The lightning fried the black box.”
“When I was in recovery after the crash and the surgeries I started poking around the Internet, finding places where the underground talent community compared notes. I learned some of the things I could do.” Sykes pulled his gaze up from the table, long buried fury smoldering in his eyes. “And I learned that there were people – there was a whole branch of the government – that knew about people like me. That could have warned me of the risks I was running. But they didn’t because they were too scared.”
Sykes pulled himself up and looked Helix right in the eye. “That was when I knew how I was going to pay it forward.”
Helix nodded slowly. “You were going to take over and change things.”
“No.” Sykes’ composure crumpled and he slipped down to stare at the table top again. His voice faded to a whisper. “I wanted to save them.”
Confusion flitted over Helix’s face but his expression quickly shifted to neutral again. “I don’t follow.”
“Daniel and Martha saved me from the foster system, from feeling like I was just a face in the crowd. They showed me that people had survived the kind of indifference that’s endemic to systems before.” Sykes threw his hands out as if to encompass the whole building and the organization that had built it. “Sumter was a system, Helix. It didn’t explain, it didn’t protect. It just demanded people do as it wanted and damned the consequences. There were three other fuse boxes in the state that could have explained the dangers of flying a plane to me, to say nothing of all the experienced field agents who had probably seen dozens of those kinds of accidents before. What was the statistic before Project Sumter went public? One in five talents died in accidents caused by their own talents?”
“One in eight.” Helix looked away for the first time since he’d come into the room. “One in five was a guess Analysis made to account for accidents that were never tied back to the talents of those involved.”
Sykes slammed his hands down on the table. “Too many! It was going to end!”
“And damn the consequences?” Helix asked.
“There were things I should not have done. But Helix, there’s something you have to understand.” Arms straining, Sykes pulled himself forward and pushed himself into something like a standing position. “Everyone wants someone to save them.”
Helix looked up at Sykes then nodded at the other man’s chair. “Sit down, Circuit. You’ll hurt yourself.”
Sykes glared down at the shorter man but Helix ignored it with the ease of long practice. “Tell me you didn’t feel isolated, Helix. How many times did you accidentally start a fire with your talents? How often did you worry about hurting someone when you touched them before your grandmother taught you how to control a heat sink.”
“Careful who you bring into this,” Helix said, his voice soft but full of menace.
Finally Sykes did slump back into his chair with a disgusted snort. “I have an IQ just shy of 130, I ran track in high school, people thought I was decent looking. But I couldn’t see a way out of foster care on my own. Don’t you understand, Helix? Sometimes you need other people to help.”
“The Project -”
“Not only wasn’t the help people needed, it was actively getting in the way.” Sykes sighed and looked down at his hands. “So I decided to get rid of it.”
“And set yourself up in its place?” Helix folded his arms across his chest. “Not exactly inspiring confidence.”
“Someone was going to do it sooner or later.” Sykes shrugged. “Frankly I’m surprised no one ever tried to play the supervillain before. Ruling a country seems like a simple business from the outside, though I’m sure it’s much harder once you actually have to do it.”
“And you wanted to try anyway.”
“Oh, I had a plan.”
“How surprising.” Helix didn’t sound like he thought it was, really. “What kind of genius plan was it?”
“You.” Sykes chuckled at Helix’s blank look. “Or someone like you. Come on, you don’t think I really could have taken over the country just because I had some breakthrough transportation and electronic warfare technology, did you? I knew that sooner or later someone would put together a way to stop me but by the time they did Project Sumter would no longer stand in the way of talented people. It would be the first step towards letting them be all they could.”
“You were going to save people by getting thrown in jail?” Helix shook his head. “That is a really stupid way to live.”
“It’s a great way to die.”
Silence ruled the room for another minute, much less comfortable this time.
“I paid off the doctor who declared me disabled after the accident,” Sykes said when he grew too uncomfortable. “But once the grand plan started to take shape I had to get rid of him. I’ve lost count of how many people I’ve blackmailed, I’m sure a lot of security directors at banks have lost their jobs because of me. Parts of my organization haven’t always… proceeded as I’d have liked.”
Helix snorted. “You mean like this last week? Or how about in Morocco?”
“Two very big examples.” Sykes rubbed a hand over his face and sighed. “Then there was Templeton. Not even a deliberate decision there. I just made a stupid mistake. But it was Elizabeth that made me see it.”
“Please don’t tell me this is the power of love at work.”
A cynical smile crossed Sykes’ face. “In a way. It wasn’t until I saw her toss away everything I thought I was going to be giving people – family, support, a place to belong – that I started to realize.” He gripped the armrests on his chair and took a deep breath. “I wasn’t saving anyone. Michigan Avenue was well intended and it even succeeded – far beyond what I was expecting. But everything before and after that… it was me trying to justify what had happened in the past. And I decided that it was time for all of that to go away. So I did. Until this week, when I realized my bad decisions weren’t quite as gone as I thought. But we’re finished with that now, too, so I suppose I really am done now.”
Sykes lapsed into silence again. After waiting to see if anything more was forthcoming Helix picked up the file on the table and stood in a single well practiced motion. “I suppose we’ll have to see about that.”
A few minutes later the door swung shut behind him and Sykes was alone with his thoughts once again.