Doyce's post reminded me that I should get this out there, because Leo has three possible Moments of Truth and this is the explanation for one of them. ---- Leonard Carson walks the halls of Ithaca High School. He's a newbie freshman, sure, but he's also the hero of Code Red, FIRST Robotics team 639. Cornell University sponsors the team. They have a full ride waiting for any kid who did what Leo managed in his first two weeks. The World Championships are in reach, if nobody messes things up. "Hey, Leonard." The voice is foreign. The tone is familiar. The school is notable for its ice hockey teams, and the boys on that team are muscular, insular, and aggressive. Leo keeps walking. "I'm talkin' to you, Leonard ." Leo feels presences behind him, around him. There's a gang of them. Well, good. I was getting bored. "You're makin' us look bad. Little Red is the game around here, not your robotics bullshit." The lead boy Leo dubs Flat-Top. He's accompanied by Acne, Helmet Hair, Horse 'Roids, and Duh. "Go crawl back in your hole, Leonard ." "Yeah, Leonard !" The name is dorky enough already, but these kids know how to twist it for maximum embarrassment. There's a logical chain of reasoning that leads from "get set up for college" backward to "get a scholarship", passing through "ace the robotics challenge" and terminating at "don't rise to the bait". Leo cuts the chain off at the head with a wide, unsettling smile. "Hockey, huh?" What he comes up with won't win any comedy awards, but Leo is quite impressed with it at the time. "Go puck yourselves." He doesn't quite remember who threw the first punch. ---- Jarett Powers has a short-cropped hair style and rocks a sweater vest and necktie combination. He has a placid expression on a good day. When the security officer escorts Leo into his office, he looks like one of those Easter Island statues. The two review the security camera footage in silence. Leo watches Helmet Hair come at him, only to be neutralized with an expert jab. His recorded self slam into the hockey jock, send him tumbling into Acne and Horse 'Roids. Duh comes after him with a meaty fist, and gets a leg sweep, bringing him to his knees. Video Leo's elbow comes down on the crown of his head. In the office, Leo winces out of sympathy. "I don't know if this is tae kwon do, Muay Thai, or something else," Principal Powers finally says. "The martial arts are good for physical exercise and self-defense. But you hurt these kids. Do you understand that, young man?" Behind him, the screen is frozen on Flat-Top. His face is a rictus of fear, the blood of his teammates smeared over his cheek where Leo hit him a moment ago. A blurry knife hand is on its way toward his left temple. "I .. I don't practice any martial arts, Principal," Leo hears himself say. How the hell is that going to help? Powers looks at him with disdainful disbelief, which Leo realized immediately was going to happen. Those are definitely some sweet moves, but he really can't do them. So what's the deal? The Principal starts to talk. There's a catalog of standard adult lectures. Leo listens long enough to classify this one. "Suck It Up" is the patriarch of a very big family. "Sticks and Stones", "You Need To Keep Your Temper", "Think About Your Future". Symbiotic lectures like "Your Parents Will Hear About This" often follow. This particular one is "Think About Your Future", crossbred with "You Need To Be The Responsible One". "None of those boys are seriously injured, which is a miracle. We're going to have to explain this to their parents. And we will most definitely be talking to yours. For now, you are suspended from school." Leo nods, and leaves. He doesn't feel sad, sick, upset, or really anything at all. Just... oh well. ---- His father - the Minion Maker - has him. Leo watches the displays, the monitors, the holographic projections. He recognizes the readout as data from his own brain, piped through the chip in the back of his head. His father is studying the screen with great interest. "This. This is what I need," he says at last, pointing at a spike in the sea of neural noise. "Do you know what you did here, boy?" Leo wants to shake his head. He can't move. He's clamped to the gurney, wired up, immobile. Rossum actually waits for a moment, as though waiting for an answer and settling for silence. The veneer of politeness is eerie, inhuman. "Neural cascade. The chip should damp down on this nonsense. This'll kill you if unchecked. But every once in awhile, it's safe. Quite healthy, actually." "The creative mathematical areas. The dorsal superior parietal lobule, here. The posterior parietal cortex, here, separated by the intraparietal sulcus, governs motor functions. Posner molecular activity spikes here, here, and here.. Mathematical and spatial reasoning. But these neurons wired together.. Basal ganglia, punching through the IPS barrier. You've got the start of a cyst there, I'll take care of that. I imagine you get headaches when you get into little scrapes like that, I bet?" He turns away from the displays, back to the gurney, and leans in. The fatherly facade makes Leo cringe. "Not enough neuroscience in that high school of yours? I'll explain. Your genius short-circuits you to the right answers in mathematics and reasoning, yes? Your inventions. That annoying car of yours. This part of your brain, this one here, allows that." "You, my boy, have somehow associated fighting with math. The pain of growing up an intelligent young man in a school that favors athletics over academics, perhaps, having to defend yourself. Hmm. So basically.. your brain has wired these centers together. The mutation naturally follows. When you throw a punch, when you are attacked, and this center activates... Motor skills. Coordination. Kinematics are just the equations of the body, and you can solve them just as intuitively. Your genius for math becomes a genius for combat. You'll always make the perfect attack. You'll always hit the most vulnerable weak spot. Every time." Rossum steps back, making clawing motions with his hands. "I need to understand this. I need time with you, with your brain. If I can replicate this effect, I can build robot brains in your image, perfect fighting robots, drones that are unstoppable. You will be my general, Leonardo, you will be my masterpiece. You will lead my soldiers to victory. It will be glorious!" His father leans very close now, eyes boring into Leo's. "I need to see this reaction take place. I need to see it trigger. So... I just need to make you fight." ---- Leo is back in Ithaca. Principal Powers has left to be Superintendent of the Union Springs Central School District. The school robotics team did .... okay. The hockey team did great. AEGIS found him, rescued him. The details are a blur. Leo was in the hospital for two weeks. The doctors assured him he was okay. Ted Waters was there. He didn't say much. He had questions. Leo had no answers. All they could do was find him a new place, a new home. "I know some people, a place you'll be safe, really safe," Waters says. "I gotta talk to a guy. I'm sorry, kid. I feel like I let you down. But.. is there anything you wanna tell me about what went on with your dad there?" Leo swallows. Dad did such things. And if I gave in once, he'd win, and I'd be in charge of an army of unstoppable bad guys. I can flip out and hurt anyone, no problem. AEGIS would put me in a cell and throw away the key if I say anything. "I uh, I need some time," Leo says lamely. "A lot happened." "Okay," says Agent Waters. It's not okay , Leo thinks.