Fresh Meat: Part 1

Reed showed us to our rooms, let us drop off our luggage, and led us to the cafeteria before leaving us to meet the buses.

“Find a table,” he said as he opened the door to walk out, “the buses are here. You’ll be seeing all your friends in minutes.”

I believed him. Except for us, the room was empty of students, but it was full of staff. The tables had been set. The staff were placing food on four different tables that barely seemed to have room for more.

On the stage in front of the room, a man said, “Testing, testing?” into the microphone on the podium until someone called him on the phone. Then he said, “Good,” and left the stage and room.

Our group had already staked out a table near the front, but Haley and I didn’t stay there. We left, standing next to the windows on the left side of the room.

Just like the parking garage, the room appeared to have been carved from the rock around it. The windows looked over the level with the shops (where I’d briefly driven the van), giving a view of the ground and the houses on the level below that.

I hadn’t noticed it from the ground, but now that we were closer I realized that the white-blue sky was slightly blurry. It wasn’t obvious whether it was a shield or some kind of physical barrier.

Either way I saw it as good news. There were some fairly obvious secret identity problems when people with secret identities hung around with heroes without them.

Whatever hung up there might be some kind of privacy screen.

That meant we could actually walk around the compound out of costume.

Haley and I stood there looking out the windows and talking until people started coming in.

We had some warning. Hundreds of people bringing their baggage up to their rooms weren’t exactly quiet.

All the same, we didn’t move until people started flooding the room. They didn’t come in in a rush, but it felt like one.

I had a brief moment where I flashed back to remembering our fight inside the alien mothership last spring. I couldn’t think of any time where the aliens had rushed us in the corridors, but we had spent a lot of time in the corridors of the ship. Somehow, the way people entered through the doors made me think of the dim corridors and the possibility that at any moment we could be walking into a firefight.

My breath caught in my throat, and I felt my heartbeat speed up.

Haley looked up at me, eyes narrowed, asking, “Nick, are you okay?”

Even as she said it, I’d already begun to calm down. I knew these people–some of them anyhow.

“I think so,” I said.

“Your heartbeat spiked,” she said, keeping her voice low. “You were afraid of something.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I know, but not now. This isn’t a good time.”

The tightness around her mouth hinted that she wasn’t at all satisfied with that answer, but she said, “OK. For now.”

We weren’t quite back to the table when Daniel touched my mind.

Are you okay?

Probably not entirely, I thought back, but I’m not having nightmares anymore.

That’s something, he replied. You’re going to have to talk to a therapist.

I could feel his concern through our connection.

I guess, I thought back.

No, I mean you will literally have no choice about talking this through with a therapist. Everyone there will have multiple sessions.

My dad would approve, I guess, I thought back. Bearing in mind that my dad was a therapist with some fairly strong concerns about what happened to teenagers who became superheroes, I felt fairly confident about that.

The fact that my grandparents’ superhero team had left him with a mental block that made him unable to realize that I was following in their footsteps made it more than a little ironic.

I’ll see you in a second, Daniel thought at me.

The next few minutes were a blur. Everybody who’d been on the buses seemed to appear–Haley’s older brother, Travis, my sister Rachel, and all the people I hadn’t seen since the last Stapledon program weekend a month ago.

Along with them came all the new people, and there were a lot of new people.

Unless I missed my guess, most of the people were new.

As the noise of students talking began to build, a voice broadcast over the PA system, “Students, please sit down.”

It took a few minutes, but eventually everyone did.

By that time a man had taken the stage. Middle-aged, he had black hair, and light brown skin, and wore a black suit. I recognized him. The man was FBI agent, Isaac Lim, the Feds’ liaison to multiple Midwestern superhero teams including my own.

Over the last month or two, he’d apparently acquired even more responsibilities.

“Hello everyone, I’m Isaac Lim, FBI agent, but also director of the Stapledon program, a joint program of the federal government, and the United States’ superhuman community.”

Flipping from the first notecard to the next, he said, “Welcome to all of you, but particularly the new students. The Stapledon program’s undergone some big changes in the past two years, and even in the two months. Its purpose has always been to train supers who planned to use their powers, but now it’s more than that. With the secrets behind giving humanity powers becoming known all over the world, we’d have enough of a reason to expand the program.

“I’m talking, of course, about protecting the United States. With the publication of the formulas for creating supers available to all–including criminals–we’ll need your help to protect this country against all enemies both foreign and domestic.”

Isaac stopped, and looked out across the room. “That would be enough by itself, but as you know, there’s more to it than that now. As of last spring, we’re reminded more than ever that we can’t just think of ourselves. Aliens attacked us, hoping to destroy the entire planet. They were stopped thanks in part to the actions of people in this room.

“Our technology couldn’t defeat the invaders. People with powers could. Therefore Congress has expanded the Stapledon program. We’re not going to be surprised by this again. We’re going to be ready. It used to be that the Stapledon program had only twenty people at most. Last year, we expanded the program, allowing more than one hundred people in. This year we’ve let more than five hundred more people in, and now that you’re here, we’re going to teach you everything you need to know to keep the world safe.”

23 thoughts on “Fresh Meat: Part 1”

  1. Just catching up, I wanna say I like what you did so far ^^

    At first I thought the protagonist were a little “childish”, but I’m coming here from Wildbow (Worm’s and Pact’s author, a “little” more dark =D ). But this is actually pretty nice and I like the direction you had for the last arcs ^^

    Good job and keep it up !

  2. 500 people into the program?

    I’m gonna have to limber up. Gotta prep the ole hands and arms for neck-twisting. Might need to work my thighs, too. That’s a lot of people to kill. I might need to snap necks with the rest of my body.

    Times like this, I wish I had a chin like Bruce Campbell. For one, it would look better, but it’s also big enough to take out a third neck while my hands and legs are busy.

    I’m kinda interested in seeing if anyone there outsmarts Nick. After all, if they have powers from juice, that makes him just about the lone unpowered person there. He’s getting by just on his intelligence. If anyone there’s got supersmarts, Nick might get to feel some of the darker emotions, like jealousy. Yes, Nick. Taste the jealousy. Tastes like… mmm, mmm, mmm, mmm…cheese. Wait, that might be mac and cheese instead of jealousy. Hold on.

    Nevermind, that wasn’t jealousy. Jealousy sometimes attracts foot fetishists, I hear. That’s because no matter what it tastes like, it smells like defeat.

    Let that sink in. Turn it over. Now, groan in pain!

    That’s what we call a delayed-reaction pun right there.

  3. 500 people? That is starting to sound more and more like an army. Izzy’s concerns from 2 years ago seem more valid now. I wonder at which point Nick will become uncomfortable with how things are going.

    500 teenagers and young adults with super powers in one place together… who thought that was a good idea? If someone wanted to take out the Stapledon Program, then they just got the perfect target. Also, at some point the social dynamics between so many people become more of a problem than it’s worth. For example, Sean and Jody vs. Nick and Haley. I doubt they are the only ones who dislike each other.

    I would organize everyone in classes of 25 people, then change the composition every other weekend. For hero stuff that would be enough. For an army, not so much.

  4. Uh oh.

    The whole “enemies foreign and domestic” sounds a lot like a military induction.

    I’m not so sure supers are really ready to be part of a military draft… Alien invasion or no alien invasion.

  5. I like that Lim is using prompt notes for his presentation – it’s a nice touch. Going from 20, to 100, to 500 student supers in two years – their organisation development plan must be in shreds.

    Hmm.

    Their teaching methods almost certainly only work for class sizes of up to 20 students. That’s sensible, as the normal human limit for an individual teacher effectively supervising students is about 25, and you can doubt they’ve got a lot of people with super-teacher abilities. So, one class, to five classes, to twenty-fives classes… One approach some organisations take to this problem is to use a training cadre, or student-teachers, so the experienced train the inexperienced, as the teachers desperately work on completing their training.

    Unless Nick or someone else tech-y has a good VR training environment driven by really reliable AIs, I think there’s a good chance they’ll at least be doing short-term work as student-advisors to semi-trained teachers… Probably with a lot of retired, maybe elderly, supers also doing their best to help train the teachers. As, being a super in no way means you know how to teach people how to safely and effectively do the job.

    I find it interesting that the politics seem to mean Lim is only talking about training people to defend the US, though he does say the whole world is at risk. UNSHC – United Nations Super Hero Coordination body is, or will be, needed?

    Yes, where does being a super-hero police-officer blend or turn into being a super-hero soldier?

    Typo(s):

    “and let us to the cafeteria”, should be ‘led us’?

    “past two years, and even in the two months”, is the word ‘last’ missing?

    “we’d have enough of a reason”, should that be “we’ve enough”, or ‘we have enough’?

  6. Yes! Finally caught up! Took me a week to get through every post, but I done went and did it! Nice story, by the way. Nicks going through PTSD, a bit.

  7. I really like the bit where Nick demonstrates a little PTSD there. It’s both appropriate for his experience, and appropriate to the circumstances he found himself in. Nick analyzes it, doesn’t really understand it, recognizes it’s not really logical, but that doesn’t help. Haley and Daniel’s reactions to him are also believable.

    Question is… Is Daniel the only mentalist in the room to pick up on it, and if there are other mentalists and they noticed it, what type of person are they?

    Also… When does Haley meet Bloodmaiden? That could be a chilly meeting, especially since Bloodmaiden appeared to possibly be attracted to Nick. If there’s a strong desire, Haley can scent it…

  8. @Hyperstrike- technically, any and all of the males [i]are[/i] signed up for the Draft- so yes, the country could just call on them to become soldiers. This way, at least, they get some better training, and it’s less sexist.

    @Farmerbob1- I’m not sure that Mentalism is that common a power, in any capacity. There’s the trained metalists, of course, but I don’t think we’ve yet been introduced to a proper super-psychic that wasn’t related to Daniel- and even if there were more, well… He (and his grandfather before him) are called “THE” Mystic- as in, the first and greatest. And he’s been training this his entire life- plus Nick’s got the fancy block from Daniel.

    It’s actually kinda funny, but psychics are generally shown as very binary powers- either you’re a ‘more powerful’ psychic than the other guy, in which case he has no chance against you, or you’re weaker, in which case you have no chance against them. There’s almost never cases or examples (possibly because psychics are usually periphery characters and the mind is a difficult thing to describe) where one psychic without the raw ‘might’ of willpower or experience ends up out-weaseling a ‘stronger’ psychic through cleverness or other means. In a way, the most flexible and subjective superpower of all is the least subjective and flexible for storytelling, simply due to the sheer scope and potential it has- if you were to try and treat mindwars with the full veritas they deserve, you’d end up taking over the whole story.

  9. If you’ll remember, Anvildude, one of the best known movies about psychics treats the powers more like how you’re talking, at least at the end.

    “All right. We’re gonna do this the scanner way.”

  10. @Anvildude – not sure if you’ve read Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files at all, but even though it’s a bit magical, there are some epic mind wars in one of the books. Also, did you used to write Whateley Academy fanfics? I recall liking some by someone with a similar screenname.

    Jim, I am glad to see Nick’s more believeable reaction too. We’ll see where things go from here. So many more powers to interact with. Maybe we’ll see someone retro-inspired by Yellow Burrito? The Avacado Fish Taco? Orange Crush (orange is my favorite color, so I approve this)? Maybe a pair calling themselves Lemon Lime?

  11. Ah, a Whateleyite! Yeah, I used to be really active on those forums. Now that they’re publishing again, I’m going to read through the new stuff then show up again. I’m still grinding away on a proper full-length Hank origin story, actually. Glad to hear that you enjoyed some of my work! Do you know which ones you liked the best?

    And yeah, there’s potential for [i]incredible[/i] imagery and subtlety in psychic conflicts, it’s just rarely seen. I think that’s becoming something more prevalent, as authors start to realize just how intensely convoluted the mind can be- I’d not be surprised to see a novel that’s set [i]entirely[/i] in the mind of one of the characters someday.

    And which movie is this, Psycho?

  12. @Charles, Anvildude: I’m hoping that there are a few people familiar with Whately reading this. I’m not a massive reader of the site (though I have read a few stories there), but I took out advertising there pretty regularly one year. I know that some people came over here from there, but I have no idea if they stayed.

    @Charles: You know, I hadn’t thought about whether there would be Yellow Burrito inspired supers out there, but there probably are. That’s horrifying.

    @Farmerbob1: The question of how Haley reacts to Bloodmaiden is an interesting one. In retrospect, I suppose this has the potential to turn into an X-Men style (or more likely New Mutants or Avengers Academy…) soap opera.

    As for the question about Daniel… There are certainly other psychics out there. Most of them are less specifically connected to Nick, and thus less likely to be listening in.

    Regarding PTSD: Whether Nick has full fledged PTSD or a relatively light case, it felt right to me. Put someone in constant danger, and they’ll have problems. I’ve known someone with PTSD. I never ended up encountering her triggers, but they weren’t due to combat. They resulted from abuse.

    @Dreamer: Well, Lim is an FBI agent who’s been involved in things like counterterrorism and superhuman law enforcement. Defending the US has been a major focus for his career. That said, international teams will start showing up.

    For all their inherited fame, the new Heroes League has been on the edge of the superhuman community previously. That’s going to begin to change with this book.

    @Notto Mention, Dreamer: Thanks for the typos/errors.

    @Hyperstrike, Psycho Gecko, Daemion, Roger: It might not be an army, but it’s definitely moving in that direction. It may not be the only facility training superhumans at the moment either.

    @Randakar: Chris may show up in Stapledon at some point. At the moment though, he’s back in Grand Lake. For what it’s worth, Chris, Marcus, and Sydney are currently the only members of the group left in Grand Lake for the summer. That may turn into a short story at the end of this arc. We’ll see.

    @Chance, Carassus: Glad to find out that you both read through the whole thing and made it to the present.

    @Carassus: Legion is a much lighter story than Worm or Pact. I think it’s at least partly due to the main characters differences. Nick’s been prepared for this by his grandparents, and for him, inventing things is as much a form of play as it is serious. By contrast, in Worm Taylor is abused at school and forced into being a supervillain by circumstance.

    @Cultist: Honestly, I fear introducing new characters at this point. I feel like Legion already has a Hogwarts sized cast.

  13. Anvildude, Nope, Psycho is the movie about the crazy guy who thinks he’s his mother and goes homicidal on people. The movie I mean is called Scanners. It’s about people born with telepathic abilities, with one revolutionary fellow (played by Michael Ironside) wanting scanners to take over. It’s known for a particularly good effect near the beginning that’s considered a classic, even though that struggle is a bit more of a curbstomp.

    Also, can’t say I’m personally a big fan of Whately. Most of my experience with it involves all the shit they shoveled on Job. Part of it was a big of being hoisted by his own petard, but they went far and beyond that. Wildbow was right about how in his case, they turn transgender stuff into a punishment for him.

    Plus, there’s the bit where he’s forced to accept a clone of his rival as his own family and heir. How’d you like it knowing that someone you loathed would inherit everything if you died? That your parents who may or may not have cared for you would dote on your rival? And what about when said rival rapes you in the hospital when you can’t fight back using a dildo that may or may not force you to become sexually obsessed with your own father? Then the same father disowns you and won’t let you back into the family unless you marry whoever he picks as an heir?

    At the end of the day, it’s a hell of a lot more honest being a villain than putting someone through all that and pretending to be the good guy.

    Carassus, yeah we’re well aware of Worm. If you read the comments over there, you’d have noticed some familiar names over here.

    Yep, the Heroes League is going to be big name amongst all the noobies. They’ve got a lot more experience dealing with all this stuff, and they’re related to well-known classic heroes.

  14. @Psycho Gecko- That’s the wonderful thing about a multi-author site, isn’t it? You can pick and choose what to read- for example, I tend to skim Kristin’s “Like a Brick” more than read it, because it’s a little too much “Sex Powers” for my taste. About the dildo thing… I _think_ that may have been an April Fool’s Day prank that was later redacted due to fan outcry. If you’ve not gone back since that, you may want to see what’s going on now- Maggie left, and they’ve brought a couple new authors on board as well- things are changing up a little.

    My personal favorites have always been the Phase stories, though I generally like what Bek throws around as well, and have enjoyed Heather’s stuff too- even her non-whately fics.

    @Jim- I’m not sure, but I may actually have found this site through those Whateley adds. I know I keep thinking of Nick as a Gadgeteer, in any case.

  15. @Anvildude: That would be cool if it turned out to be true. Ads generally have brought in readers when I choose the right sites.

    @Jill: I’m guessing that since I had to approve this comment you recently read all the way through. Glad you made it up to the current post.

  16. Ahem….. “On the stage in front of the room, a man said, “Testing, testing?” into the microphone on the podium until someone called him on the phone. Then he said, “Good,” and left the stage and room.”

    Okay, did you seriously just spoof the Verizon “Can You Hear Me Now” phone guy there?! If so, well played, very well played! If not… I apparently need to get out more. Hm. Also agree with the Nick having nightmares and issues thing, that was well done.

    Minor typo: “big changes in the past two years, and even in the two months.” (either need to repeat ‘past’ or remove the ‘and’. Unless you can shift the blame to Lim’s notecards!)

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