As if it wasn't bad enough that they'd been out all night searching the city for a deranged genius before he killed someone with booby-trapped stuffed bunnies and cymbal-clashing monkeys, Alex had to come back to what some of the DEO techs had started calling the Winn and Brainiac show. In her current angry and sleep-deprived state, she found herself with little patience for it, especially since she could see how tired and stressed both of them were. Winn in particular; he looked like he was running on the ragged tightrope of too much caffeine and no sleep. He'd been on edge ever since his father escaped from prison for the second time, but she couldn't help noticing how worn down he was getting, as the hours slipped by and the Toyman continued to evade capture.
"If you're so smart, then," Winn snapped, "why don't you just fix all our problems for us? War, disease, famine? That should be easy for you, right, with that twelfth-level intellect you keep bragging about? But then, talk's what you're good at, as opposed to coming up with actual, practical solutions."
"It's not bragging," Brainy shot back, "it's simply stating facts. All any of you have to offer are these -- these toys!" He flung one of the DEO's sensor devices, a recent development of Winn's that could detect life signs and identify species up to 200 yards, onto Winn's desk. "Perhaps you should go play with the Toyman; at least he has some ability to innovate. He might teach you something."
Winn's face went white and still; he got up and left the room without speaking.
"Brainy," Alex said. She gestured to him. "Could you take a walk with me, please?"
"I know what you're going to say," Brainy said as soon as they started climbing the stairs. "I let my temper get the better of me. It's a bad habit of mine, really unbefitting a superior intellect --"
"It's not that. Well, not precisely that." She stopped him with a hand. "Do you know why Winn reacted that way?"
"Possibly because the truth hurts," Brainy said sharply. He paused then, and took a deep breath. "All right, I realize I was being insensitive -- again --"
"It's because his father is the Toyman, Brainy," Alex said. "The man we're having a citywide manhunt for." When Brainy simply looked blankly at her, she said, "You didn't know that, did you?"
"No," he said softly. "No, I did not."
Mon-El had told Querl that when Winn wanted to be alone, he could usually be found in the DEO labs. And indeed, all it took was a quick life-sign scan in the labyrinthine depths of the DEO building (perhaps the little device was good for something after all) before he stumbled on Winn soldering an object that Querl recognized at a glance as one of the DEO's primitive incapacitation weapons.
"Come to mock some more?" Winn asked sharply.
Querl opened his mouth, and then closed it. He wasn't good at people. He'd never been good at people. He was all too aware of it.
But ... there were times when he wanted to be.
"Alex told me some things," he said. "About -- why you reacted the way you did. Throughout this entire -- that is to say, when I called your device a toy ... I didn't realize you were related to him."
Winn looked up sharply from the object he was working on. "Seriously? You didn't think it's a slight clue, just maybe, that his name is Winn Schott and my name is also Winn Schott?"
"I'm from the 31st century and the planet Colu. For all I know, it's an incredibly common name here. Like your planet's version of Zimple or Skax."
"I ... okay, you know what, I don't actually want you to elaborate on that." Winn shook his head and looked down at his work. "I, okay, look, I know in your own weird way you're trying to apologize. So yeah. Apology accepted. We're all tired and stressed out. I just want to be alone for awhile."
"My ancestor and namesake was the greatest criminal who ever lived on Colu."
That got Winn's attention. He looked up, startled. "Say what now?"
"The first of the Brainiacs. He's long dead in my time." Querl looked away; it was strange explaining this to someone who didn't know. The last person he'd run into who didn't know his family history was Mon-El, and Imra was the one who had eventually told him. "One of the reasons why I have the mental prowess that I do is because I chose to learn all I could learn of his accomplishments. I reasoned that science itself is neutral, neither good nor evil, and even if the original Brainiac -- my many-greats grandfather -- chose to devote himself to evil and eventually gave up his humanity completely, it didn't mean his inventions were inherently evil. Some of my mental augmentations ..."
He hesitated, aware of Winn listening very intently.
"-- are derived from Brainiac's original technology. I was also able to adapt some of his inventions to improve the lot of all Coluans, improving our crop yield, for example, and fixing some of the damage that we'd done to our ecosystem -- using technology that Brainiac had used in his attempts to blow up planets and to turn whole worlds to deserts."
"Well, that sounds like a better thing to do with it, for sure," Winn said, his voice hushed.
"I thought so too. In the end, though, I became unwelcome on my home planet. Not explicitly banned. Simply distrusted. My people see me as Brainiac's successor." He touched his forehead, the visible technology there. "There are those who say that the enhancement tech I've used on myself will inevitably have the same effect on me that it did on him. It doesn't help that other Brainiacs have also gone mad and tried to kill people."
"Yeah, we kinda ran into one of those."
"Really?" Querl asked, looking up in surprise.
"Yeah. Brainiac 8. When we were first going to wake you up from hypersleep to save Kara, there was a pretty intensive debate once Mon-El told us who you were. Mon-El said he trusted you, and we figured the risk wasn't too bad and was totally worth it anyway. I mean, Kara did defeat the other Brainiac. We figured we could do it again if we had to." Now it was Winn's turn to hesitate. "You didn't know any of that, did you?"
"No," Querl said softly. If the 21st-century humans had behaved oddly around him when he'd first come out of hypersleep, he hadn't noticed. In truth, he had paid little attention to them. They were all dust in his own time anyway. Aside from Kara, he'd had little concern for what they thought of him at all.
And then he'd begun to experience the thrill of working together with Kara and J'onn in the field, arguing with Winn, Alex's wariness starting to shade into respect ...
He liked them. He wanted them to like him. He wasn't sure if he'd cared this much what other people thought of him since, well ... since the Legion.
"Yeah, so," Winn said abruptly. He kicked another stool, rolling it out from under the worktable. "Welcome to your lifetime membership in the exclusive 'I come from a family of supervillains and everyone thinks I'm going to turn into one eventually too' club. Except that's way too long to fit on a button. We need some kind of pithy club motto. The 'not as evil as we could be' club?"
Querl couldn't help smiling. "It still lacks a certain panache."
"Mon-El's a member too, you know. One more and we'll have a barbershop quartet." Winn nudged the stool with his foot. "C'mere and show me why this stungun won't shoot."
"Aside from the fact that your technology is so dated that you might as well send your agents out in the field armed with rocks and sticks, and the best thing you could do for that t-- that piece of junk is melt it down for scrap?"
"Yes," Winn said, with dignity. "Apart from that."
"In that case, let me see if there's something I can do for it." Querl took the offered seat, and Winn flashed him a quick grin as he handed the gun over.
"Hey, is that one of my life sign detectors you've got there?"
There were times when Winn was actually too sharp for his own good. Querl tucked it into his pocket. "It's mine; I've claimed it for study."
"Haha, so you want to study it. Think you could actually learn something from our 'primitive' technology?"
Querl could think of 143 different clever comebacks to that statement -- or those that seemed clever in the moment, anyway; one thing he was learning was that his algorithms were not much use at predicting actual, lasting cleverness. On Colu he'd tried to be the consummate genius they recognized him as, knowing that to show weakness was to call into question every one of his past decisions that his people had ever questioned. He could only survive through perfection. Here ... perhaps he didn't have to. Perhaps it was all right to question and to doubt.
"Only a fool," Querl said, "thinks he has no more to learn," and Winn grinned at him.