When I was young, I used dream of growing up to be a superhero. I was going to be great, do wonderful things, and it would be amazing. Maybe I’d fly, or maybe I’d be invisible, or I could do things with my mind. I should have been pleased when I turned twenty to discover I had superpowers. Much to my dismay, however, my superpower was the ability to turn myself into a child.
It’s not that being able to be a child doesn’t have its advantages. I’m smaller, I can get into nooks and crannies. Kids are often overlooked. It’s a convenient disguise. Then again, people don’t listen to kids, and kids are a lot smaller. If a bad guy comes at you, you don’t exactly want to be a kid, now do you?
Don’t get me wrong. Being a kid isn’t the only superpower I have. I can also turn myself into an old man. I’m probably the only person on the planet who knows exactly what they’ll look like when they’re older.
It’s a bit difficult coming up with a name for my alter ego/superhero persona. I mean, what exactly am I? I’m sort of ageless, I guess, because I can be any age I want to be. There are drawbacks to any of these ages, let me tell you, but it can be fun. After all, I’m my own sidekick and wise older adviser all in one. Not that I can be in two places at once, but it’s similar. I’m a one man band, complete show. Still, Ageless isn’t a name that sells the lunchbox, you know.
He, Clayton Moore, was a superhero. Actually, to be perfectly honest, he was a mid-level file clerk—the term he used to describe his seemingly pointless job analyzing foreign chatter with an equally useless degree in linguistics—with aspirations of being a spy… Someday. Just like he had when he was a child, he was still dreaming of being more than he was. He would always be second-rate. It didn’t matter that he had a superpower, a mutation; it was a lousy one. Useless. That was how he felt most of the time. Useless.
He looked out of his cubicle and sighed. Another boring day of work. He kind of felt like faking a stomach ailment and disappearing with a school tour again. That could be fun. Much more interesting than this very boring afternoon. If he was going to have to read another chatter intercept about two foreigners, supposed agents, who were really just eating dinner. Nothing sinister there.
He could always pretend to be his father with another family emergency. That was good for two or three days away from this mind numbing drudgery. Why couldn’t he have gotten something better for a superpower?
Yeah, it was time to climb out a vent shaft in the bathroom again. This was a secure location, but he had discovered just how little that meant to a person who could become a little kid or an older man. He could escape notice in either form. The people he worked with probably wouldn’t even notice anymore. They didn’t even seem to know his name.
He left his desk and headed into the restroom. He had to do something, or he would go mad. He had no choice. It was his sanity or his life. He went into the stall at the end. He shut the door behind him and climbed up to the vent. He jumped part of the way up and started the transition. Oh, this always hurt, but it was mostly worth it in the end. There was a certain thrill to getting away with it, oh, yes.
He crawled through the ducts and towards the nearest exit that would allow him to join a school group. He did this all the time, much more than he should. He pushed down the vent and jumped into the camera’s blind spot. Two more minutes, and the school group would pass by, and he would join them. He would blend in easily enough.
He quickly fell in with the kids as they headed through the building. It was good to catch them here. He would hate to have to go through the full tour. He knew where stuff was, and it wasn’t like the tours showed anything interesting anyway.
He felt eyes on him, and he looked over to find them. Not good. That teacher was sizing him up. She knew he didn’t belong with her class. This was not good. He ducked his head and tried to be inconspicuous. He couldn’t help being a little unusual. His clothes were… kind of odd for a little kid, a suit like this. He had to have clothes with an extraordinary amount of give and flexibility if he was going to switch between sizes.
He ran from the group as soon as they were out of the doors, hearing the woman call to him from behind him. It didn’t matter. He was free.
He had actually paid for that little joyride. It wasn’t something that happened right away. It wasn’t even his supervisor that did it. It wasn’t at the job. Well, there was something at the job, but the job was separate from the trouble he caused himself by sneaking out. In the end, they got mixed together, as everything could and did.
He should start back at the beginning. The beginning was not simple. He’d tried to figure out what the beginning was. Was it when he first discovered his power? Was it his childhood dreams? Was it something else? He supposed it probably began with the memo that he’d come across.
It was misfiled. It shouldn’t have been. Eyes only. Classified. Beyond his level. He wasn’t supposed to see it. He never saw anything more than boring and meaningless chatter. He was supposed to find details, information that no one else saw. But he never did. Only there came this paper, a note he should never have seen. Words he shouldn’t know.
A project code named Fountain. Research. The details were vague. He should have let it go right then, but he couldn’t. It tugged at him. He knew that he couldn’t get his hands on more information in his current guise. His form. His base form, as he understood it. He needed something else. He could fake a badge, use one of his older forms to make it seem more likely…
Fountain. Genetic Research. He had a nasty feeling that he knew what that was about. He might not have been a genius, but he knew enough. A fountain, like the legendary fountain of youth. Genetic research, looking for that mythical fountain of youth.
Trouble was, he was the walking, talking fountain of youth. He didn’t entirely understand what he was, not exactly, but he knew he hadn’t been changed by a radioactive spider. He had been like this all of his life. He’d never really known that he could do it, but he knew it wasn’t new. He had dreams that he’d walked around much taller than he was. He remembered them. He remembered being an old man in the park. Maybe he was not conscious of what he had done, but he’d done it. It was him. All him.
Maybe he wanted that too much.