About the Author:
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
JOHN JOSEPH ADAMS is the bestselling editor of Wastelands, Under the Moons of Mars, Seeds of Change, The Living Dead, The Way of the Wizard, By Blood We Live, and The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. He's a two-time finalist for the Hugo and a three-time finalist for the World Fantasy Award. He is also the publisher and editor of Lightspeed Magazine, and the cohost of Wired.com's "The Geek's Guide to the Galaxy" podcast. He lives in Coastal Central California.
CATEGORY: Secret Identity Management Variables
RULE 967.2b: Managing Your Love Life Is No Easier for Geniuses
SOURCE: Professor Incognito, Instigator of Martian Rule
VIA: Austin Grossman
Our first journey into the realms of madness looks reasonable enough. How crazy can an itemized list really be? Well, in this story, a simple list of Professor Incognito’s apologies reads like the confession of a remarkably evil genius.
Professor Incognito likes to live the lifestyle of any classic supervillain. He’s got secret rooms and hologram projectors, midnight costume changes, and plans for sentient tigers.
There’s just one barrier lying between him and perfect happiness: his fiancée. Is there any way to explain to her that beneath his mild-mannered façade as a physics professor, he’s got the skills to take over the galaxy? Is there any way to reconcile a relationship built on lies? And should he wear his costume to their next couple’s counseling appointment?
Beneath the humor, this tale asks a more chilling question: What role do secrets play in our relationships—and do we really want to know everything about our partners? It doesn’t take a genius—evil or otherwise—to fear the consequences of a love built on lies.
PROFESSOR INCOGNITO APOLOGIZES: AN ITEMIZED LIST
If you’re receiving this message then you have probably made a startling and disturbing discovery regarding the nature of my scientific work.
Please forgive the unsettling nature of my appearance—the holographic projector is my own invention and probably very lifelike apart from the change in scale, which I believe lends a dramatic effect. I understand if it initially gave rise to confusion, panic, or small-arms fire. Needless to say—I have to add this—your puny human weapons are powerless against me.
I am recording this because I just gave you the key to my place, and although we’ve had the “boundaries talk” several times these things still happen and I wanted to have a chance to explain.
To get this far, you must have found the false wall I put in at the back of the bedroom closet. You must have pushed aside the coats and things, found the catch and pulled it aside to see the access shaft and the rungs leading downward to an unknown space deep beneath this apartment complex.
Did you hesitate before descending? Perhaps you still supposed this might be a city maintenance tunnel—strange, but surely more plausible than what followed. You must have started the elevator manually. (I’ve always admired your resourcefulness at moments like this.) And then you would have had to guess the combination to the vault door; tricky, but then of course you would know your own birthday. So maybe then you realized where you were, as the vault door opened and the rush of escaping air ruffled your black hair, and you crept inside, lips parted, flashlight at the ready. And you heard the electrical arcs sizzle and smelt ozone, and the glow of strange inventions cast a purple light onto your face, and you found yourself standing inside my secret laboratory.
Maybe this is for the best, you know? I think you should sit down—not on the glowing crystal!—and we can talk. This may take a while but fortunately the silent countdown you’ve triggered is quite lengthy.
I completely agree that this is very legitimate breakup material. I know that’s what Kris would say—will say—she’s said it about a lot less. Plenty of people—say, InterPol or the federal government, or the Crystal Six—would take matters much, much further. They’ve certainly tried.
This isn’t the first time I’ve faced discovery. Secret identities are fragile things; you set up a dividing line in your life that can collapse in an instant, that can never be reestablished. You yourself have already come close to the secret so many times, come so close to stumbling into the clandestine global conflict that is my nightly pursuit.
(The hero Nebula came close to unmasking me in Utah, before I lost her in the depths of the Great Salt Lake. In Gdansk I matched wits with Detective Erasmus Kropotkin. But always I knew you, Suzanne, were the greatest threat to my domination of the world.)
In any case, I’m afraid this knowledge will do you no good. As I am constantly having to inform people.
I said “explain” but I think I really mean “apologize.” And, truthfully, most of my apologies aren’t very sincere. Typically I make them just before or after an unspeakably evil act. Before hurling a helpless superhero off a tall building, I say things like, “Please forgive my rudeness,” as a kind of facetious witticism, a quip to break the inevitable tension.
I’m going to try and be more sincere this time, partly on the advice of our Doctor Kagan but also out of a sense that if I owe anyone on this terrestrial globe, which I will shortly crush with the burning talons of pure science, an apology, it is you.
So I’d like to issue this apology regarding my rudeness, a boilerplate phrase but maybe on this occasion it can stand in for all the small inevitable, innumerable items that must go unsaid in this list: toilet seats left up, dinners missed, gestures of tenderness that went unmade when they were needed most. And, yes, for the mighty and terrible engines that must, even now, be warping through the ether toward your pitiful planet.
In the interest of precision and sincerity I’d like to itemize this list as far as possible, which I know is a little too much like one of our counseling sessions. I know you’re probably going to break up with me again. But please, bear with me.
* * *
I, Professor Incognito, hereby issue apologies regarding the following:
RE: ANY CONFUSION YOU MAY BE EXPERIENCING AT THIS MOMENT
It must be a shock to learn that the person you think of as your hardworking, decent (perhaps a bit dull) fiancé is in reality the terrifying, fascinating, inexplicably attractive figure of Professor Incognito. You’ve heard of me, I suppose? A name synonymous with evil and brilliance the world over? I hope so. I made a point of mentioning it enough times.
I think—and I think Doctor Kagan would agree—that this might be really, really good for our relationship. You often spoke of a remoteness about me, a part you simply couldn’t reach. Maybe that was the reason you were attracted to me in the first place, that you sensed on some level a mysterious unknowable chamber you couldn’t find a way into. On some level you guessed what it might be, that I had hidden away my glittering machines, seething chemical vats, the mutation ray in a place you’d never reach.
Of course you did. People have levels, you would say. Engineering levels, generator levels. Hydroponics.
RE: WHAT HAPPENED AT DINNER WITH YOUR PARENTS THE OTHER NIGHT
Your father’s remarks about Martians were both irresponsible and uninformed, but that’s no excuse for how I reacted. But, and at the risk of repeating myself: the Martians are an ancient and noble culture who built golden pyramids long before human life appeared in North America.
RE: ANY SLIGHT UNAVOIDABLE DECEPTION
It didn’t start out this way. In the beginning everything was much as it appeared to be. I was a young physics researcher with a hopeless crush on a brilliant colleague. It would have been ridiculous, even if I weren’t five foot four, even if I weren’t maybe the most awkward individual on the planet. I would never have dared speak to you. That first kiss outside the student center is still as miraculous to me as the sunrise might have been to our primitive ancestors, long before science simultaneously cleared everything up and made it all more confusing.
And it’s strange because it was on the very day of that kiss that I had the first whisper of the insight that would make my career, crack open reality, and ultimately lead us to this conversation.
I knew, before anything else, two things: one, that it was the greatest scientific discovery in a hundred years, and two, that you could never, ever be told of it.
RE: OUR DATE ON THE EVENING OF JANUARY 25 2007
Yes, I was irritable and distracted at dinner, and I didn’t listen properly to your story about Eileen and the paper’s managing editor, whatever his name was, which I think, in retrospect, was more entertaining than I gave it credit for. It’s not an excuse, but that was the day of my first experimental proof of concept. I had discovered there is—layman’s terms: a gap in the world—a space between the atoms ... if you knew where to look for it. A scientific principle with endless applications for the manipulation of matter and energy.
I could have told you about it, and I didn’t. I still don’t entirely know why. There were legal reasons, of course; you would have been an accessory under the law. And my secrets were dangerous. I’d be protecting you as much as myself. But I’ll be honest: as my career progressed those reasons came to matter less and less. I know now that I can protect you in other ways, that the law can be bought, my enemies crushed or intimidated.
You were the most important person in my life, the one who knew me most intimately. Why couldn’t I tell you? Maybe I was afraid you would contact the authorities. Or steal my ideas. Or call me insane.
Maybe I knew you wouldn’t choose me if you knew everything about me. And maybe being in love means you never get to be a whole person again. The moment we met I became two people: the one I decided could be with you, and the one left over, the person I am by myself. A person who I could never, ever let you meet, and who became the greatest criminal genius the world has ever seen. I used to marvel at t...
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