In 1951, Congress passed the Invention Secrecy Act which allowed the U.S. Government to classify any technologies they viewed as harmful to national security. In a world of superheroes, this Act became the greatest tool of the Powers That Be to keep a lid on superhuman ingenuity before it exploded into an unwieldy mess, spinning society into chaos.
In 1952, the government established a task force to enforce the Invention Secrecy Act. Working in secret through the U.S. Patent Office, this task force rounded up hundreds of superhuman inventions in the name of national security. Many of these inventions continue to stay classified to this day. So how is it that you came across these files, hmm?
Quantum Cryptograph Machine
“No, I haven’t heard back just yet.”
The bespectacled man adjusted his bathrobe. His estranged wife loved to call him in the wee hours of the day, when the sun was on the exact opposite side of the world. He wondered how her sabbatical to Paris was going.
“The patent office has to review it thoroughly. It’s how they… it’s their job, pumpkin.”
There was a knock on the door. He cursed under his breath.
“Who could it be at this hour? Huh? No, listen, hun. I have to go. When am I hitting it big? When it gets approved and every technology company in the world is ordering my machine. No I… I have to go!”
He hung up the phone and shuffled over toward the now more violent door pounding.
“I’m coming, hold your horses.”
He opened his door a crack.
“Dr. Belfort?” an older man in a suit asked. There was a younger man, also in a suit, just behind him.
“Agent Blandell. This is my partner Agent Donovan. May we come in?”
“Agents? What is this about?” Belfort asked.
Belfort swallowed hard, nodded and let the two men in.
“I take it the patent office has made a determination?” Belfort asked, adjusting his bathrobe again.
“As a matter of fact it has,” Blandell said, looking around Belfort’s small apartment.
“I see. And?” Belfort pressed.
“It is the opinion of the U.S. government that your invention represents a threat to national security,” Agent Donovan chimed in. Belfort stumbled backwards.
“A threat? H-h-h-how? I am I-I-I’m no threat.” Belfort adjusted his glasses. “I had top secret clearance during the war. I worked for the War Department for years. I’m a red blooded patriot.”
“Of that I have no doubt,” Agent Blandell said, fetching a slip of paper from an inner coat pocket. “Nevertheless, your invention has the potential to harm U.S. interests and therefore must be classified under the Invention Secrecy Act.” He handed the paper to Belfort.
“Are you going to arrest me?” Belfort asked, hesitating to open the paper.
“If that’s what it comes to,” Donovan chimed in with a slimy grin.
“Sweep it,” Blandell said into a device about the size of a closed fist. Four more men entered the apartment and began tearing the place apart.
“Hey! What is this? What are you doing?” Belfort demanded to know.
“Your invention is now classified,” Blandell replied. “Any materials, notes, schematics, or designs of any kind are to be turned over immediately.”
“We found it,” an agent said, carrying a device the size of a toaster.
“This is outrageous! I demand to speak to your superiors. I’m entitled to an appeal. You can’t just take my work!” Belfort exclaimed.
“We can,” Donovan said with that slimy grin of his. “We will. And we can throw you in prison with treason charges should you ever breath a word about any of this.”
“It’s… it’s not fair,” Belfort said, collapsing into his sofa.
“Now you’re getting it,” Donovan winked.
Directed Energy Weapon
“Test fifty-eight… unsuccessful. Preparing Test fifty-nine.”
In an empty field outside of town, Jack Tyler removed a glowing energy cell from his car-sized weapon platform. He grabbed a fresh cell from a nearby duffel bag and went to replace the old one when he saw a parade of headlights charging toward him.
He wondered how quickly he could pack up his invention and hide it in the back of his pick-up. He did the calculations, decided it wasn’t possible and locked the energy cell into the weapon. The cars stopped in a semi-circle in front of Jack. The lead car’s doors flung open and two men dressed in slick suits approached him.
“Mr. Tyler?” the older one asked.
“Maybe. What’s it to ya?” Jack replied.
“I’m Agent Blandell, my partner Agent Donovan. We’re here to talk about your invention.”
“The only people I’m talking to about my invention is the patent office. Then after that, the U.S. military or whoever else wants to buy the weapon system of the future,” Jack said, tapping the side of the weapon’s chrome barrel.
“You’re in luck. We happen to represent the former.”
“You’re from the patent office? What’s with all the goons?” Jack asked, pointing to the four cars worth of back-up waiting behind the agents.
“They’re just a precaution,” Agent Blandell explained. “Safety in numbers, you know.”
“Oh yeah? Do I make you feel unsafe, mister?” Jack asked.
“Perhaps I can better make that determination once we’ve looked at your device,” Blandell said, approaching Jack.
“How about you stay right there, pal,” Jack said, pointing the weapon at him. The men in the cars all pulled their revolvers.
“Stand down. Everyone stand down,” Blandell said, waving them off. Then with hands raised, “Jack. This isn’t going to make anything better.”
“Yeah? You think so, slick?”
“We just wanna talk, big guy,” Donovan said, leaning on the hood of their car. “No need to turn this into a massacre.”
“Ah ha. Ha. A massacre, huh? So you understand what this weapon is capable of. You must be smart cookies,” Jack said tapping his head.
“Smart enough to be on the winning side,” Donovan said. Blandell, hands still raised, eyed his partner over his shoulder. “You could do a lot of good for your country, Jack. But smoking a bunch of Feds ain’t a good way to start.”
“If you guys lay off, then I won’t have to,” Jack shot back.
“It’s your choice. You can hold us hostage for as long as you can hide behind your invention there, or you can come over here and we can talk.”
“If you really wanted to talk, you would have met me at my house. If you’re here, it means you’re only after one thing.” Jack started inching the weapon back towards his pick-up.
“That looks heavy,” Donovan noted. “You sure dragging it like that won’t ruin the temperance coils running to the chamber?”
“What? Shit, what?”
“Now,” Blandell said into his walkie.
Jack’s body flew several feet away with a newly made hole in his chest. The crack of a rifle followed two seconds after.
“Nicely done, Edwards,” Donovan said into his walkie.
“Damn it,” Blandell spat, wiping his sweaty brow with a kerchief.
“What’s wrong? Never been in someone’s sights before?” Donovan asked, lighting a cigarette.
“Believe or not, I have. It never gets easier.”
“Whatever you say, boss. Hey, wanna light up a few trees before we pack this thing up?” Donovan asked eagerly.
“Of all the inventions we’ve gone after, this one might just be the coolest,” Donovan said, looking over the case file one more time.
Blandell sat in the driver’s seat, watching the target’s home. Donovan sat in the passenger seat with his feet on the dash. Blandell didn’t like it, but Donovan kept on doing it anyway, despite many warnings. Neither of them liked stakeouts, but this inventor was a hard man to track down. It had a lot to do with the device they were currently after.
“Anti-gravity. You think you’ve seen it all and then another genius comes up with a completely new way to break physics,” Blandell said, breaking off another piece of his chocolate bar.
“You think they’ll let us put a couple of these on our cars? Futurize the motor pool?” Donovan asked.
“If I were in charge, it would be my first act in office,” Blandell replied.
“You got my vote, chief,” Donovan grinned.
“We got eyes on,” Edwards said over the car radio.
“Here we go,” Donovan said, giddily.
A vehicle that had maybe been a car once, flew past them, rocking them. It circled, then steadied itself for a vertical landing in the yard behind an auto shop. The agents could barely comprehend what they were looking at, and they were both in the 99th percentile for intelligence scores.
The vehicle landed with a thud, loosening a component near the engine. It powered down. Then a black man stepped out.
“Oh hell no,” Blandell said as he got out of the car.
“Blandell, what are… hey wait!” Donovan scrambled to keep up.
The black man wiped his brow with a kerchief, cursed when he saw the part that had loosened, then cursed again when he saw the agents approaching. He quickly threw a tarp over the vehicle and went to greet the agents.
“You can’t be back here, folks. We’re all closed up,” he said.
“Agents Blandell and Donovan. Are you Dylan Roy?” Blandell asked.
“I…. I um…”
“Did. You. Make. This,” Blandell demanded, pointing to the covered vehicle.
“I-I-I-I… yeah. Yes, I-I invented this. Did you say you were agents?”
“You submitted a patent application for an ‘anti-gravity booster’ which would allow any vehicle smaller than a train engine to float. Is that correct?”
“Yes it is. What is this about? Why are you here in the middle of the night?”
“We’re taking this and anything you’ve written down that even smells like anti-gravity,” Blandell proclaimed.
“You can’t do that. You can’t… I filed for the patent. I paid the fee and everything.”
“And Uncle Sam decided to classify it,” Donovan said.
A half dozen agents began to tear the auto shop apart looking for relevant documents. Dylan looked between the agents in front of him and the auto shop.
“This isn’t right,” Dylan said.
“Excuse me?” Blandell replied.
“What I made is going to change everything. This is the future. Right here,” Dylan said, patting the vehicle. “It deserves to be out there. A flyer for every home.”
“And what’ll that make you? A rich negro growing fat off the American Dream? Like hell I’m gonna let that happen.”
“Blandell, cool it,” Donovan said in a low voice.
“It’s bad enough we let you people live in our neighborhoods, it’s another thing when you throw together monstrosities like that, endangering our very way of life!”
“How can you look me in the eye and say that? It’s a flying car! It don’t matter who makes the future. We all gonna live in it,” Dylan said.
“That’s where you’re wrong, boy.”
“I ain’t as old as either of you, but I ain’t no boy, mister,” Dylan said, getting heated now.
“Hey, Blandell, lay off the ‘boy’ talk, would ya?”
“Shut your mouth, Donovan. Remember who the lead is here.”
“You know what? Take everything. Every scrap of paper this boy has.”
“Arthur. What the hell are you doing?” Donovan asked.
“These city negroes are tricky, Donovan. You can’t trust their words any more ‘an you could a rattlesnake. I won’t leave anything to chance. Not a trace, gentlemen. Not a trace.”
“Like hell you will!” Dylan said, grabbing a crowbar.
Blandell had his gun in his hand quicker than Donovan had ever seen the old man move. Five shots. Dylan Roy fell, dead before he hit the earth. Donovan’s eyes shot back and forth between Blandell and the dead young man. Blandell spit on the ground.
“Grab the body, Donovan,” Blandell said, grabbing a gas can. “Not a trace.”
A Shrinking Suit
“Wait. I thought this was a suit that shrank people,” Donovan said, examining the microscopic tuxedo.
“That’s what the patent application said,” Blandell concurred.
“No no, good sirs,” the tailor waved. “This invention doesn’t shrink people, merely clothes. With the push of a button, you can fit a whole wardrobe in your pocket for whenever you need it.”
“Oh. So I won’t shrink if I put this on?” asked Donovan.
“I wouldn’t recommend that,” the tailor said.
“Your patent application was terribly written. I guess we have a dud here,” Donovan said, tossing the tuxedo aside.
“Hmm. The meta-materials in the suit might be worth classifying,” Blandell noted.
“Didn’t we already classify a meta-material thing?” Donovan asked.
“Even if we did or didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to say in front of civilians now would I?” Blandell said, through clenched teeth.
“Oh right. Sorry.”
“Tag it and bag it, boys.”
“Is the folder a noun? Or a verb?” Donovan wondered.
“I thought you read the application last night,” Blandell said.
“I was a little busy taking the anti-grav booster for a spin.”
“Of course you were.”
The agents sat silently in the car.
“Blandell…” Donovan began tentatively.
“About… about that man.”
“The anti-grav inventor.”
“What about him?” Blandell asked.
“It’s just… you’re a kindly old sort. Gruff sometimes, but kindly. I’ve… never seen you like that before.”
“Does the fact we had to kill that boy trouble you?”
“We’ve killed before. We’ve had people killed.”
“Yes, that’s true.”
“Don’t tell me you’re a negro lover.”
“I ain’t a lover of anyone or anything, Arthur. I just don’t understand.”
“What’s to understand? They’re animals. Plain and simple. Sometimes, they need reminding of their place. Hesitate, and they’ll kill you dead, like that boy almost did.”
“You didn’t have to egg him on so much. Hell, you practically begged him to attack you. Maybe if you’d taken the chill track like me, we’d have gotten the designs without having to cover up a homicide.”
“What are you a beatnik?” Blandell asked.
“A soft hand invites rebellion. You let them learn even a little bit of courage and you could lose everything. Violence is the only thing they understand.”
“That just seems a bit savage to me,” Donovan said.
“No one asked your opinion, Matthew.”
Simulated Intelligence Machine
Blandell poured another drink at his desk. The work had been getting to him lately. Late nights dragging into early mornings. There were so many superhuman inventors patenting their superhuman inventions that he wasn’t able to keep up. They would have to expand their operations, increase budget and manpower if the task force had any hope of enforcing the Secrecy Act.
A knock at the door interrupted his thoughts. Blandell downed his drink and hid the glass and bottle in a desk drawer.
“What is it?” he asked, his words a little more slippery than a sober man’s.
Donovan walked in wearing a crisp new suit. A new briefcase occupied his right hand.
“Hello there, chief.”
“What do you want, Donovan?”
“I came to tell you the good news in person.”
“What good news?”
“Congress just approved next year’s budget. We’re getting a raise!” Donovan said, spreading his arms like a showman.
“That explains the new duds,” Blandell said, pointing at Donovan’s clothes.
“Oh, these? No, sir. That’s because I’ve just been promoted.”
“Promoted? When?” Blandell asked.
“Just last night. I’m the new head of the task force.”
“Well, son, congrat…” Blandell blinked. “Did you just say…”
“Yes, Arthur. I’m your boss now.”
“You’re shitting me.”
“Not even a little bit. But don’t worry, you’re not out of a job. They’re opening a new office out west and they need a flabby old ass to fill the seat.”
“This can’t be happening. Why is this happening?” Blandell blurted, full of rage and tears.
“Why, Arthur? You really have to ask? It’s because you’re old news. We live in a new age. An age of secrets and cloak and dagger politics. And Uncle Sam needs fresh young gatekeepers to defend America from mad science. New blood. Not you and all the other oldies at whatever backwater antebellum plantation you crawled out of.”
“Impossible. A punk like you running the task force? Have they lost their minds?”
“Maybe. It’s a crazy world we live in now, don’t you think?” Donovan asked with his trademark slimy grin.