Picking Up Pieces: Part 7

Images of Rook’s base, the glow of the jet’s dashboard during our flights, and the earlier fight with Rook’s people blurred inside my head.

Daniel gave me a mental poke. Nick, talk.

“Just kind of out. Uh… This is Daniel, a friend of mine for years. You’ve met Haley, and probably Cassie…”

He nodded, which was good, because I wasn’t sure I had introduced him to Cassie.

I indicated Izzy with my hand. “This is Izzy. She’s visiting from California. Uh…”

I’d looked at her, realizing that she was wearing the same black and blue exercise clothes she’d worn during the fight. The only difference was that instead of wearing a mask, she was wearing glasses.

I racked my brain, trying to think if there had been any time tonight where we’d been in the presence of the press while she’d been around.

I couldn’t think of any.

That was enough relief that I might have sighed.

The funny part was that she really did seem different as a civilian. She held herself differently. She slouched a little, and didn’t meet people’s eyes—which had to be a challenge since she was taller than any one of us but Daniel.

“Yeah,” I said. “That’s everybody.”

On the TV, Flick’s interview had ended, and they must have talked about us because they’d gone into a montage of our history.

The announcer said, “The New Heroes League burst onto the scene in a fight with the Gray Giant, a foe who has killed far more experienced heroes.”

The screen showed the Gray Giant slamming me into the highway’s median, and then Daniel, Cassie, and I attacking him.

“Not content to fight minor criminals, they’ve exposed their mayor’s connection to a shadowy group known as the Cabal, triggering a worldwide search, and the discovery of power juice…”

The screen showed images of our press conference after catching Mayor Bouman, including the moment where Haley took my hand. Pictures of Ray and his team, the Cabal’s army, and seemingly anyone we’d ever fought (including Evil Beatnik and Izzy under his control) flipped through.

Jeremy followed my eyes and watched the TV for a few seconds. “That’s what I was wondering about. Were you guys watching the fight near here? One of the guys in the dorm got stuck in the traffic jam, and he saw part of it, and it was awesome.”

“Yeah?” How was I going to end this conversation? I’d just given him an open ended invitation to tell me more about the fight.

Jeremy opened his mouth to say more, but didn’t get a word out.

Cassie gave a nod toward the stairs. “Hey, weren’t we going to catch Courtney?”

“We should.” Daniel grinned at Jeremy, “Good to meet you. I’m sure we’ll run into each other again.”

“Sure,” Jeremy watched as Daniel, Cassie and Izzy started to turn, and as Haley touched my shoulder, steering me toward the hall.

That would have been it except that I noticed Jeremy’s eyes widen. In my head, I heard Daniel.

Crap.

Then Jeremy looked a little confused, as if he’d forgotten something. He stared at us, brow furrowing, concentrating.

Nick, it’s decision time. What do you want me to do with him? I can keep him from making the connection for now, but he could make it again any time, and I won’t be here.

I absorbed that. Why? Why did he make it now? Was it SuperTV?

No. It was Haley and you. The moment where she took your hand and guided you away when you obviously weren’t sure what to do next. Lots of people thought it was cute—one of those little humanizing moments. She did the same thing just now, and she’ll probably do it again.

I didn’t know what to say. My mind felt blank. Maybe it was tiredness. Maybe it was more than physical fatigue. How many big decisions could I handle in a day? This wasn’t life or death, but it was big, and in some ways, it wasn’t much of a choice.

Between risking discovery at an unpredictable moment, or giving Jeremy the same version of the block we’d given Kayla, and planned to give Courtney, we didn’t have a real choice.

Right. Daniel’s face didn’t show much emotion about it, but he seemed a little worried to me.

OK. Let him remember what he just thought, and I’ll try to get him to come back to our room. Maybe Cassie and Haley could go get Courtney?

Jeremy stared at me. “No shit,” he said.

“We’d better talk about it privately.” I tried to keep my voice calm, and mostly succeeded.

At the same time, I hoped Daniel would be up to blocking two people after everything we’d already done that night.

21 thoughts on “Picking Up Pieces: Part 7”

  1. Travis is going to be pissed. That’s another person that’s in on the secret thanks to nick. Sorta makes me wonder how any heroes keep secret identities when half the people in the world aren’t genre blinded.

  2. I don’t have too much and I really should get to writing. I’m so far behind I could be a third party candidate.

    Alright, first of all…step right up. Anyone who wants to learn The Rocket’s secret identity, Nick, should just step right up to this line. Also, if you’d like the optional mental block at the end, you’ll have to stand in another line. Of course, if you realize what’s happening and use a voice recorder or turn on the video function of your phone where it can hear you mention the secret identity just before you’re brainwashed where you can’t say it, that might be a way around it.

    Today’s brainwashing is brought to you by PineSol. *cuts to a commercial where a squares of identical soldiers are marching below a balcony in perfect lockstep. The camera closes in to show the PineSol lady watching the parade in an outfit resembling a general. She smiles at the camera and says, “That’s the power of PineSol.” just before a flight of fighter jets flies over the palace*

  3. Secret identities are an issue… It’s about maintaining more than one life, and set of relationships. Solitary heroes who keep all their relationships to their non-super lives are one thing. Those with crossover, like Nick, are up against the way human brains are wired to handle complex social relationships, and pick them out from the background noise, sometimes by very small cues.

    In some worlds with supers there seems to be a secret id blindness feature as a basic part of the setting. Don’t rub people’s noses in it, and you’ll probably get away with a secret id given only moderate effort. I guess you could claim it is part of the way supers bend reality. Arguably, Nick isn’t a super, which might be one issue, or, “secret id blindness” isn’t a feature of Nick’s world…

  4. The issue with Nick and the secret identity is that he does absolutely nothing to hide it. The way he handles things is much like a teenage boy trying to hide his masturbation habits from his parents openly taking a bottle of lube and an underwear catalog along when going to the john.

    As such, that could be blamed on just being incompetent at hiding things, but a deeper problem is he also doesn’t seem to actually care about it on any serious level. Hot chick wants superpowers to stay hot? Yeah that’s more important than maintaining a secret identity.

    It’s probably due to being used to mostly being around only those who know and those who are forcibly being stopped from knowing.

    1. Courtney I discount because Haley called him and incriminated him using a costume name while he would be around people.

  5. To be fair, Nick is being forced into close proximity with people who he has to hide his identity from at an age when his grandfather was in the army and didn’t have to worry about it– when he began operating as a hero after the war he had his own house; Nick has to go off campus to have his own space. He is more likely to have his identity compromised just by the sheer number of people with too much free time with whom he has regular contact.

  6. Nick’s poor secret ID-keeping skills have moved from endearingly oblivious to dangerously incompetent. I mean, I can see why: he’s spent his whole life around people who were blocked and/or telepaths who conveniently perform memory erasures and blocks. It encourages sloppiness. But he’s seen the results of carelessness. Repeatedly. And he still doesn’t even think twice about, for instance, talking secret superhero stuff in public. He’s lucky the first person with super-hearing who caught on to him immediately ‘fessed up (though that may have been with an eye toward blackmail…).

    I don’t think it’s anything he did that night in particular; honestly I was waiting for disaster ever since finding out he’s living in the dorms. Why? He lives in Grand Lake. He wouldn’t even need to live with his parents — he *has his own house*. It is preposterous that he is staying with a roommate in the dorms. You’d think even if nobody else mentioned the potential problems to him, Stapledon would have some sort of Secret ID 101 course.

    Oh, and hi! I love the story.

  7. To be fair, Nick was just trying to go along and have a friend’s back. Courtney wanted to check in on getting her powers impregnated and just happened to have the super hearing needed to overhear Nick. I don’t think Courtney’s going to join the team though. Maybe she’ll take a block, but she doesn’t seem the type to be their superspy.

  8. If you read between the lines the old league also had problems….wasn’t Nicks mom kidnapped 3 times before ?

  9. I’ve never addressed that directly in the story, and probably should… Basically, his parents said no, believing that Nick needs to have the dorm experience, and that it’s too easy for him to withdraw into himself.

    1. Except he is eighteen and actually owns the property. Tell his mother the ‘dorm experience’ is a security risk. And he can live in his own house. And thus save the cost of the dorm.
      The counter argument is he is close enough to his classes to walk to them shortly after waking. Not drive across town to reach them.

  10. welcome avid reader. as to Nick, case studies in the psychology course at stapleton will be written about how not to keep a secret identity.

  11. Speaking from personal experience, it’s really easy to withdraw into yourself even in a dorm with another person. I used to feel so bad that my roommate was basically talking to the back of a laptop all the time that I started to form a sock puppet style hand to talk back to him, just without the sock.

    …I miss doing that. It was fun.

  12. Agreed with Gecko. 101 of keeping secrets: you have no obligation to answer random people’s questions about your life, so don’t.
    Where were you? Around.
    Who with? Some people.
    What does your father do for a living? Stuff.
    Tell me about your girlfriend? I’ll break your arm if you as much as look at her.
    Care to elaborate? Nah.

    It’s easy, and when you establish a routine of it it stops seeming like you have something to hide. What’s more, it doesn’t even necessitate being insular, you can still make all the small talk you like about local sports teams, party politics and beer.

    In fact, I’m pretty sure the last of those was the only topic I ever discussed with my uni freshman roommate.

    1. I was much more concerned with my freshman roommate’s sleepwalking. and peeing in the sink while sleepwalking. and unlocking the door when he sleepwalked out of the room. and how much we hated living on the third floor with no elevator. Pardon extra typos, using my phone.

  13. Let’s be fair guys. It was MUCH easier to keep a secret id in the time of the original League. The primary source of visual documentation was still photos. As moving videos became more common and the ability to post them on the internet came about the sheer volume of visual cues such as Haley taking Nick’s hand guarantees somebody will eventually grok the fact that you’re really UberSlob the Human Garbage Disposal. And just like with armchair quarterbacks and coaches, looking on from the comfort of your recliner with a beer in your hand and no pressure to win makes it easy to come up with plays that “Would’a worked better.”

  14. Hey kids! Miss me.

    Jim, I love the nice touch of how the news program points out that the Heroes League showed up and promptly started lining up wins against foes who’ve bested far better villains.

    It reminds me of the that chapter so long ago when Nick was worried that the League wouldn’t live up to the original legacy, and that he’d never be able to carry his grandfather’s rocketpack.

    I thought that news report was sweet vindication.

    1. Hey Bill, good to see you’re reading. I’d been wondering where you were.

      As for the news program, I wasn’t really thinking about Nick’s worry, but I was thinking about how the general public would see it, and to the general public, they’ve looked pretty good so far.

  15. Sorry. I meant bested foes who’ve beaten far more ”experienced” heroes.

    I don’t know how much “better” they could be if they couldn’t defeat the Executioners and yet the Heroes League DID.

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