Graduation: Part 3

The next day at school, it occurred to me that I should have been more scared after receiving that message.

I can’t say that I wasn’t scared at all, but I didn’t freak out. Marcus and I called Isaac Lim, and the FBI traced the call to a payphone somewhere near Nashville. It surprised me that Prime could even find a payphone.

I mean, seriously, who uses them?

When I explained why we wanted the trace done, Isaac wanted to hear the call himself, and told us that he’d look into getting us some help. I almost told him not to worry about it.

Apparently, I was getting used to the idea that people wanted to kill me.

Well, that was one possibility, the other was that I might be relying too much on Lee’s assessment of danger. He hadn’t thought much of the professionalism of the Cabal or the little that was left of them. On the other hand, he’d been impressed by the Executioner (or the team that portrayed him).

So anyway, that’s the sort of thing that was going through my head during the special assembly for graduating seniors (only). Which was okay because it was largely a waste of time. We all gathered in the auditorium after first period, filling only the center section because we only had a quarter of the school there.

It lasted for an hour.

The principal, Dr. Williams, talked about his memories of our class, conversations he’d had with parents, how we’d all grown over the last four years, how we’d remember this time with fondness for the rest of our lives, and that even the people in our class that we didn’t like now would be friends in the future because they’d shared this moment with us.

After he finished, Assistant Principal Sledge went up to the podium, and talked about the importance of filling out the graduation paperwork that went home with us the night before. It included ordering our robes, the way we wanted our names to appear on our diplomas, signing up for the senior trip, and signing up for the post-graduation party.

So again, largely a waste of time.

I spent the largest part of the assembly speculating as to why Prime had called us to let us know he was coming. Surprising us seemed like the better strategy. Of course, they’d tried that twice already, and it hadn’t worked.

If I remembered my world history class correctly, the Roman Empire’s army had been full of barbarians by the end. Maybe Prime had been one of them? Directly challenging somebody seemed like the sort of thing a barbarian might do. Of course, leaving the challenge as a voice mail sounded like something from a Monty Python skit.

If Prime were immortal, it could mean he hadn’t adjusted very well to the modern age. On the other hand, an immortal would to have centuries of experience with people to draw from. He might be using it.

In the end, I decided I didn’t have enough data to make a good guess.

When Mr. Sledge stopped, I left with everyone else, walking with Cassie and Kayla. Thanks to alphabetically assigned seating (Nick Klein, Kayla Ketchem, Cassie Kowalski), we were all near each other anyway.

“Ready to be out of here?” Cassie stepped between Kayla and I and put her arms around our shoulders.

“I can’t believe it’s almost over,” Kayla said. “I feel like our class just started to come together.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I feel like I’ve barely been here this year.”

Cassie laughed. “I believe you. You zoned out for the entire assembly.” Then more quietly, she said, “Anything important?”

“Ask me after school.”

Kayla didn’t say anything.

After we got back into the hall, I left them, and headed to my locker.

The halls were empty except for seniors and senior homeroom teachers. Everyone else was still in class. I passed Sean’s locker. It was only a few down from mine. He stood there, hanging onto the open door, and not moving, staring inside.

I wondered if I’d been that obviously out of it during the assembly.

I half-expected him to notice me, and ask me what I was looking at, or possibly give me the finger.

He didn’t. Dayton came up, and put a hand on his shoulder. “Hey, still upset?”

Sean turned around, frowning as he noticed me, and said, “Not here. After school.”

I knew what I wanted to talk about after school. What did he want to talk about?

Fortunately, death threats have a way of focusing the mind, and I’d come to school more prepared than usual. I’d worn the stealth suit under my clothes, and carried a bunch of roachbots with their PSP shaped controller in my backpack.

During study hall, my last class of the day, I texted Cassie, telling her to wait for me because I might not come out immediately.

Once I got out, I made a beeline for my locker, got out the PSP, and sent out a few roachbots around the school. It took a couple minutes, but I did find Sean. Instead of talking with Dayton, he’d gone into Mr. Beacham’s room. He’d shut the door behind him, but the roachbot fit underneath it.

I sent in two. Then I started walking, backpack on my back, earphones in my ears, and pretending to be more interested in a video game than where I was going.

“… I don’t know who he was, but he called my house last night,” Sean said.

Mr. Beacham and he stood talking in front of Mr. Beacham’s desk. The roachbot gave me a good view of the “I Have a Dream” speech poster, and the chalkboard.

“He knows where I live. He looked it up in the phone book, and he told me if I got into his business again, he’d kill me. Now what am I supposed to do?”

Mr. Beacham checked outside. “I’d call the police, or maybe the FBI.”

“They can’t do anything. You know they can’t do anything. They just die when supers come to town.”

“Then call the Heroes League. Teenagers or not, they seem to know what they’re doing.”

“But I thought you didn’t like secret identities, and inherited powers. I thought it sounded like feudalism to you. You said you wanted supers to be public and accountable.”

“I did. Sean, I’m a teacher. It’s my job to teach you, and maybe in the future, you can change how the world works. For now, you need to work with what’s here.”

Sean clenched his fists as Mr. Beacham talked, and when he stopped, Sean started shouting.

“But they don’t like me, and they’re not going to help me. I’m public because you said it was the right thing to do, and I’m going to die, and it’s all your fault!”

The plastic paperclip box on Mr. Beacham’s desk fell over, and metal paperclips spread across it, pointing in Sean’s direction.

Sean looked down at the mess, making a wordless noise, and left, slamming the door behind him.

The roachbot’s signal blinked out for a moment as he walked under it, but then reconnected, much to my relief.

As Mr. Beacham took a deep breath, I wondered if Prime had been trying to provoke reactions like Sean’s.

22 thoughts on “Graduation: Part 3”

  1. Pangoria’s comment sums up my feeling as well.

    Imagine, Sean and the JF weren’t hotdogging, they thought they were doing what was right by forgoing secret identities. Now I genuinely feel bad for Sean, as opposed to viewing him primarily as a sucker that I occasionally can sympathize with.

    Jim, I like how you have Nick speculate on Prime’s motives for the call and you communicate Nick’s nonchalance at being threatened quite well. “Apparently, I’d gotten used to the idea of people wanting to kill me”. Solid gold.

    Seriously, though, as much as Sean annoys me, he really can’t let himself get killed because of some high-school beef. I really hope that somebody let’s him know that.

  2. I also really liked this update and sean being given a little more depth maybe he is salvageable after all. : )

  3. I doubt if the kind of person who becomes a leader of a secret society for thousands of years would go around announcing his plans to people without good reason. Perhaps Mr. Prime’s challenge is a red herring, or a setup for something else?

  4. On Sean: I’m generally of the opinion that when people are jerks, there’s a reason that they’re jerks (and that more often than not, they don’t think they’re jerks at all…).

    It’ll be interesting to see what people think of Sean when this arc fully plays out.

    (And thanks for the compliments).

    Wanderhome: We’ll see.

    Eli: With all the Python skits that included barbarians in the current day (well, the 60’s), referencing it just felt inevitable.

  5. I tend to think people minimize high school beefs a bit too much. These dramas and traumas during that period in your life have shaped enough people’s lives us as a society to know it’s really not something to dismiss as inconsequential. The ‘pettiness’ /does/ matter. Case of ignoring history and watching it repeated.

    That said, I never went to high school, so I have an odd view.

  6. Parahacker: Your point is all too true, the stuff kids suffer from; or are allowed to get away with…in high school oftentimes have a negative effect well into adulthood.

    But the fact is Sean’s life is in danger; very imminent danger. This simply isn’t the time to worry about who doesn’t like who. Worry about it AFTER you’ve neutralized the mortal danger.

  7. I’ve wondered for years now if american high schools really are the way they’re presented in fiction, with all the cliquishness and mindbogglingly childish issues about seating arrangements, “popularity” and whatnot. It seems hard to believe, especially as media does tend to colour everything to make it more exciting, but the presentation is worryingly uniform…

  8. I can only speak for my own experience, but here’s how my own high school worked:

    Seating: Alphabetical seating (by last or first name) in every class and in assemblies. This was for the convenience of those teachers who needed to know if people were absent.

    Sports: On-going attention to them with occasional pep rallies if a particular team was doing well enough that it was getting into state finals (as in once or twice in four years…).

    Bullying: Some verbal. None physical.

    Popularity: I knew who the popular people were, and some degree of cliquish behavior existed, but the “popular” people were generally pretty decent to everybody and you certainly didn’t see the popular vs. unpopular, geeks vs. jocks tribal warfare experience that you see in movies and TV.

    Speaking only for myself, I definitely fell into the category of “geek,” but was involved in sports for 3 out of 3 sports seasons during the school year.

    So I’d say that the elements exist, but the experience is exaggerated in fiction.

  9. @ Mazzon and Jim; The media’s portrayal of high school is like the media’s portrayal of police work or the military. While certain parts of it is exaggerated, others…are actually played down because if they told the truth, folks would say, “Wait, that’s too much. That can’t be true” I believe TV Tropes calls it Reality is Unrealistic.

    As Columbine tragically taught us, a lot of the petty brutality can escalate all too quickly and have very real consequences. And of course, consider the news story allegedly about a break-up on a college lacrosse team that led to the girl getting killed and her boyfriend being suspected.

    These cases are FAR, far from the norm. But the media can only spin these stories because there is basis for them in reality.

  10. I like the way you contrast Nick’s lackadaisical attitude with Sean’s.

    Both facing death threats (Sean’s perhaps a little more severe, with the no secret identity bit). Nick’s is the weird one, not Sean’s; the League has been conditioned to take this better, Sean is probably more true to life. It’s just that in comparison to Nick’s badass attitude, Sean’s is kinda whiny.

    And Beacham… great idea in theory, but not always so great in practice, and it’s going to take more than one punk superhero team to get it working. I wonder, did he advise Sean in this, or did Sean just pick the theory up in class and then blame Beacham when it went wrong?

  11. About superheroes being public and accountable… I find that while the publicity has it’s pros and cons, it’s really the accountability that makes it a bum deal. When stopping superpowered or simply very well-armed villains, collateral damage tends to happen and even if public opinion is in favour of the capes, a man whose car was sacrificed to stop Dr. Meanypants or whoever is probably going to sue for damages, and even if courts find in favour of the superhero nine times out of ten, it’s still going to bankrupt most heroes in no time even without legal expenses.

  12. Bill: That’s true. Lots of things that happen in real life wouldn’t be believable in fiction. It would just be too coincidental or over the top to feel real.

    Guile: As much as Nick is in some ways an “everyman” character, he’s also been trained in the martial arts from a fairly young age, and spent the last year dealing with threats. So, I can’t argue with you there. Nick is the one with the weird reaction.

    Guile/Mazzon: In that situation, superheroes would almost have to work with a large organization that could take out some superhero equivalent to malpractice insurance.

    On the other hand, I’ve always assumed that people purchased a “superhuman damage” rider for their insurance policies…

  13. I guess I always figured it would be covered under whatever government system covered property damage due to police or military actions. If the police force a criminal’s vehicle into your car or truck to stop the criminal’s flight, who pays for that? I’m sure in Canada the government would automatically cover that sort of thing, but who pays for the damage in the US?

    Similarly, if military engineers divert a river into your wheat field to prevent flooding at the nearby hospital, who pays for that?

    Thus, if the government is going to sanction the actions of superheroes (i.e. “registered” heroes), shouldn’t they be as responsible as if it was the national guard, or the FBI?

    Hg

  14. @Hydrargentium – I didn’t realize you were Canadian. But that doesn’t change my opin of you.

    But anyhow, about the superhero damage insurance, I figure the folks in Grand Lake figure it’s better to have to pay for a blown off roof rather than have your spouse or kids vaporized or squished. I know I would.

    OMG, guys, could you imagine one of the AllState commercials for such a thing, (if they offered superhero insurance)…..”Ensuring that the road back after a supervillain attack will be an easy one. Saving the day; and your wallet. That’s AllState’s stand. Are you in good hands?”

  15. For what it’s worth, here’s how the system works as I imagine things…

    Most people’s car, house, and businesses have insurance plans that include damage from superheroes/villains. Superheroes that are employed by the government have the government pay for problems they cause.

    Most superheroes aren’t employed by the government. The FBI has a program (that the League is in) where they coordinate actions with them and sometimes operate together. When it’s a government sanctioned action, it’s covered. When it’s their own, they’re mostly protected by anonymity.

    They’re still vulnerable to lawsuits though, and there are charities (like the Superhero Legal Defense Fund, mentioned in “The Beginning”) that help with that. More established teams carry insurance against lawsuits. The League does too. They’re just unaware of it. It’s handled by their foundation.

  16. Okay, wow. That Sean knows enough to trust/talk with Mr. Beacham makes me feel a lot better about him. He’s not going to the VicePrincipal, nor to his dad (who is a jerk).

    And Sean was totally hotdogging it — but he had some moral idealism to it too.

  17. Agreed, Mian – I also liked this part, speaking as a teacher, because we do walk that line of trying to tackle the big issues without easy answers, and facing the consequences of what happens when students only hear what they want, or potentially take something too close to heart. It’s kind of sad that, I could totally see Sean’s dad marching in and trying to get Mr. Beacham suspended, for his teaching putting Sean in danger (his Dad seems like a jerk that way, but given Beacham’s a popular teacher, I imagine Sean isn’t angling for that). Oh well.

    Alphabetical seating in assemblies?! That kind of blows my mind. I mean, I can see it, but wow. (It also puts siblings together, not always the best plan.) Must really depend on your school. Oh, and possible typo: “an immortal would to have centuries” – no ‘to’?

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