“Why won’t I like it?”
Sitting up a little straighter in his chair, Mr. Cohen said, “I think we need to take a step back before we talk about that. I asked for your thoughts on what happened because I think you need to hear yourself say them.
“I’m a big believer in taking a look at the whole picture. Can our legal system take care of the problem? What about letting the superhuman community handle it? And is it worth it? In my experience, you can never ask, ‘Is it worth it?’ enough.”
From the main room of the basement, Daniel’s brother and sister started laughing, making me wish I could lower their volume along with the TV.
Mr. Cohen glanced toward the noise–though that meant glancing toward a wall covered with books.
Turning back to me, he said, “At least they’re enjoying it… But back to what I was saying, the way I see it is this. Sean killed Ray, and you think he should be punished somehow. What you’ve got are two ways to do it. The legal way, which might not work, and the way a lot of supers would handle it–intimidation, and maybe beating him up.
“The best case for doing things within the legal system is that even if he escaped jail, he might think about different ways of handling it next time. The best argument against it would be that he could end up in jail for twenty years, converting him from an ordinary kid who went too far to a bitter, powerful enemy–assuming he’d stay in jail.
“Now the problem with scaring or beating him, your other option, is that it doesn’t stop there. The dislike the two of you already have for each other could turn into hatred, and an increasingly violent feud. I’ve seen it happen.”
I thought about that. On Sean’s end, I wasn’t convinced that some hatred wasn’t already present, but I couldn’t know it for sure. In his world, ganging up on someone with two of your friends might be something you did when you merely disliked the person.
“Nick, I think the wisest thing is for you to stay out of it. I think I need to talk to him and then submit his name to the Stapledon program.”
“The program that’s giving Vaughn and Cassie free ride scholarships to college? That’s…”
It seemed wrong enough that I couldn’t even think of a way to say it.
Daniel’s dad took a breath. “It’s for everyone’s good. The Stapledon program is meant to help people adjust to having powers, and to teach people how, and when to use them. All of you should join up.”
I found my voice. I’d heard a lot about the program last semester. “I know that Isaac Lim wants us to, but it sounds like too much. College is supposed to be harder than high school, and then putting the Stapledon program, and normal life together… I don’t know if I can handle it. From what Isaac said, Stapledon sounds like the Army Reserves for superheroes, but with more on-duty weekends.”
Plus, the thought of dealing with Sean the whole time sounded like hell. The last year of high school had been bad enough.
“I think you’re better off in the program than out of it, Nick. Daniel will be in it. So will Preserver’s son, Alex. You’ll be among friends, and if you choose to keep on doing this, you’ll need the support.
“And that’s why I’m recommending it for Sean too. He did what he did because he had powers, and almost no guidance. That’s how a lot of kids go wrong.”
“But he killed someone. Shouldn’t something happen to him other than free tuition to whatever college he wants?”
“I know. It doesn’t seem right, but it’s not a simple situation. If he’d killed some random person, he’d be going to jail right now, but he didn’t. He killed Ray. During a fight. Ray’s got a long history of killing supers, their friends, and their families.”
I considered pointing out that I knew that, but I never got the chance. Daniel’s dad kept on talking.
“Ray terrorized people. He deliberately baited supers into going after him, and exploited their mistakes. He’d killed Sean’s father, captured his friends and family, and he was going to kill more people if he got away.
“I’m not saying what Sean did was right, but right now I think we need to look at the question of whether he’ll make a habit of it, or whether this was the product of an extreme situation. That’s why I’ll be going to talk to him.”
“But…” I struggled to find words. “You don’t believe in killing. I heard you argue about it with Jaclyn’s grandfather last fall.”
“I know. I still don’t, but in this situation I have to be fair to Sean. If I’d been facing Ray, I would have known whether or not he was faking unconsciousness, and still a threat just by touching his mind. Sean can’t do that, but he had more options than stabbing Ray with a sign. I think we’ll all be better off if he learns what they are.”