EXCERPT: Professor Incognito Apologizes by Austin Grossman

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.

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Professor Incognito Apologizes: an Itemized List
by Austin Grossman

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 re: 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.

[End Excerpt]