Getting out of the house unseen posed an interesting challenge. Sumerset mentioned other exits from the bunker, but he didn't want to risk them until he had an opportunity to check them out. That left the front door--and me wearing power-armor.
We found the heaviest coat I had and managed to stretch it over the suit, but it was a tight fit--and it made me look like I was sixty pounds heavier. Still, it was better than looking like I was a super-hero sneaking out of the house.
I waddled into Sumerset's car (which I had taken to calling 'the Tank') with my backpack--inside was the suit's helmet and splatgun. We hadn't been on the road for five minutes before I realized I was starving--I asked him if we could stop and get something to eat.
"Sure," he said, and pulled into a fast-food drive-thru.
I told him what I wanted. He ordered two of each.
"You going to have the same thing?" I asked.
"No," he said. "You're going to eat like a pig."
"Happens for a while after you take the elixir," he said. "You'll always eat more, but for the first week or two you'll pretty much just inhale anything put in front of you."
I stayed quiet as he paid for the food and sat it down in my lap. When I started to eat, I felt that gnawing, voracious hunger again--and realized he was right. I was going to eat all of this.
"So," I said inbetween bites. "Is that all there is to being the Skull? Gulp down some blood-flavored koolaid, gain superpowers, and spend the rest of your life asking for everything to be supersized?"
Sumerset laughed. "Maybe. Why you asking?"
"It just occurred to me. If the only thing separating mom and dad and the rest of the Skulls from everyone else was some funky potion and a really cool costume--what was the big deal?"
Sumerset spared me a glance while he drove. "You're asking me why--or how--your mother scared half the cape community witless?"
"Well, yeah. Not that I don't believe it," I said. "I just don't get it."
"When I told you to punch that cinderblock, you swung at it as hard as you could," he said.
"Uh. Yeah. So?"
"Most people wouldn't have. They'd pull their punch."
"Why? I was wearing an armored fist--"
"Doesn't matter. It's still your fist, and it's still a block of concrete," he said. He tapped the side of his temple, his eyes locked on the road. "Folks have a mental block, see. Humans spent the last hundred thousand years evolving into animals that don't kill each other on sight. We're built for socialization, not violence."
I rolled my eyes. "Tell that to a war vet."
"You're talking to one."
"Er--sorry. I didn't mean to--"
"But, yeah. We can kill each other," he said. "But it's not something we're built for. Half a soldier's training just involves getting him to a point where sticking a knife in some other guy's guts doesn't make him vomit. It don't come naturally. Most of us, we gotta work at being ruthless bastards."
"And, what? Mom was different?"
"Yeah. For her? It was second nature."
"So what you're saying is that my mom was a sociopath," I said, my voice more than a little bitter.
"No," Sumerset said. "Not at all. She was kind--compassionate. Caring. Probably one of the best people I ever knew."
"But, what? She just happened to be able to go all crazy-violent at the flip of a hat?"
"She had a talent for finding simple answers to complex problems. And those simple answers often involved doing harm," he said. "She once described it to me like this--that when she was in a situation, her mind would go clear, and she'd see--she'd see a straight line from herself to the solution."
"What does this have to do with me and the cinderblock, anyway?"
"Because it's along the same lines. I asked you to punch a cinderblock. You did it. Subconsciously, you're probably aware that even if the armored fist hadn't worked properly--if you'd broken every bone in your hand--you could have just healed it. It's something your mother would have done--she never pulled punches. She rarely got flummoxed. She was a problem solver. A doer--not a thinker, not a feeler."
"I vomited after I harpooned that guy in the shoulder," I told him. "And when I fought Sharkface--"
"Did you hesitate before you threw the poker?"
I shifted uncomfortably in the seat, nibbling on the last of the fries. "...No."
"Your mother didn't like violence either, Sue. But when it was the best way to save lives--the best way to save the day--she never hesitated to bring it to bare," he said. "Doesn't mean it didn't make her sick. But that's the thing--the thing that made her so goddamn terrifying. She could do the violence. She could be the ruthless bastard. And she could do it extraordinarily well. To the point where she scared the crap out of everyone who was watching her."
"Well, I don't want that," I told him.
"Hey. I'm more than glad to hear it. You don't belong in this costume," he told me. "You belong in high-school, necking with some teenage creep while working on pushing up your SAT scores."