Burning: Part 4

Camille grimaced. “That’s horrible. That shouldn’t happen to anyone.”

She turned, following Tara with her eyes to where she sat. Gordon stood next to her. I couldn’t hear him, but from the expression on his face I guessed he must be apologizing.

Tara’s face didn’t show any emotion, and after a moment Gordon left.

Camille let out a breath, and shook her head. “We should do something for her.”

I found myself imagining it as an episode of a a children’s cartoon–“My Little Pony” or something. Camille would throw a party for her, and Tara would say, “Thanks Camille, now I don’t feel bad about my dead parents anymore!”

Come to think of it, that sounded more like the Simpsons satirizing children’s cartoons.

I felt relieved that Daniel wasn’t within range because that did border on some kind of insensitivity.

Then I caught a sideways glance from Haley. She’d obviously noticed something.

I tried not to respond. Haley raised an eyebrow, and turned her attention back to Camille who was saying, “What? Did I miss something?”

I shook my head. “No. I was just thinking there wasn’t much we could do that would equal out to everything that’s happened to her.”

Camille frowned and she said, “Does she have friends?”

I tried to remember. “The upperclassmen are all pretty close, I think. Their class can’t be more than twenty people. Plus, she’s friends with my sister Rachel and a couple other people. They got kidnapped together on a field trip once.”

Camille blinked, and said, “A Stapledon field trip?”

I nodded. “Yeah, I don’t think they want that spread around. Actually, I think Tara’s background is well known among the upperclassmen, but we probably ought to be careful about passing it around to everyone else.”

Haley looked up from her hand. The small spike of a dewclaw withdrew into her palm. “You know how I worry about my body when I change? If her background got out to the public, that would be worse.”

I thought about that, wondering how many supers had overheard. Probably not all that many, and with the mental block the program put in no one would be able to tell the public.

I hoped no one would treat her differently inside the program if it got out. Of course, if anybody were to get treated badly, I’d half expect it would be the Cabal students. Family members of the student body had been killed or hurt by the Cabal.

* * *

Sunday turned into Monday, and Monday morning found the entire school down at the tracks exercising.

It was tough, but not as tough as we’d experienced on Saturday. That surprised many in the crowd (even first years had heard about what happened on Saturday).

They didn’t have it all wrong, but anyone who had paid attention during the lecture before the workout knew why it had happened.

I had, and because of that I knew that stress played a big role in driving people toward higher levels of power. Dr. Nation had explained that unpredictable stress made the difference. Doing the same exact thing every day wouldn’t be unpredictable.

That’s how I found myself running a reasonable distance at reasonable speed. It felt cool at first–fifty degrees when we started, but not cold. Plus, fifty degree temperatures weren’t bad for running, anyway, it got into the seventies by the end of the morning.

I generally ran three or four days a week, so while Saturday’s workout had been a challenge, it hadn’t been as bad as 25K runs I’d done.

All of which meant that for me, long distance running gave me time to think.

I’d been thinking about what Gordon had said. I didn’t waste my time on the idea that supers should be running the government. That was obviously idiotic.

What hung around in my head was the idea of taking action in Turkmenistan.

It wasn’t theoretical. I could personally do it, and not just there, but in hotspots across the world. The most obvious ways to do it were with killbots and with the League jet. There weren’t a lot of buildings that could stand against prolonged assault from the jet’s main guns. There weren’t a lot of people who could survive an attack by a killbot.

Ignoring the fact that I’d be setting up a program of personal assassination against anyone who violated my sense of what’s right, it had the obvious problem of inspiring worldwide terror among world leaders who might correctly realize that they could be targeted too.

You could even choose the targets to be people like Turkmenistan’s leaders–people with a record of killing their own citizens. At that point, you could almost argue self-defense.

Again though, at that point you’d still have a much higher profile than I’d want, and inspire too much fear (not to mention an inevitable reaction) to do long term good.

Plus, of course, justified or not, actions like that would make me a supervillain in the eyes of people I respected.

If I wanted to stop a foreign regime from killing it’s own people, I’d want to go another route–something more subtle.

I’d want to infect their armed forces with nanobots that could make their vehicles and guns stop working. Why stop there? At that point, I might as well find ways to take over their national infrastructure.

Imagine being able to arrange it such that a regime’s leader’s vehicles always hit red lights or never got hot water or a warm meal?

At that point the world would mostly be laughing at the leader in question, especially if you chose your “attacks” carefully, and didn’t make all of the humiliations public.

It wouldn’t automatically work but it sounded better than killing people.

I spent most of the run imaging ideas, and planning out the devices I’d need to implement them.

That’s how I ran then–breathing heavily, but putting one foot in front of the other, and imagining a series of big pranks that I never seriously intended to put into practise.

It wasn’t a surprise then when Daniel started laughing inside my head.

19 thoughts on “Burning: Part 4”

  1. The Kickstarter’s hit enough to do two books. If you’re wondering if it’s still worth giving, the answer’s yes for two reasons.

    1. We might get high enough to do an audiobook of Legion’s first book.
    2. Having a couple hundred extra would be a nice buffer in case of surprise expenses for the project.

    Outside of that, thanks. Everyone’s done more than I could have reasonably expected.

  2. Gaslighting dictators only work up to the point where they go Aerys II Targaryen on their own people instead of being the usual tin-pot dictator.

    What needs to be done against such regimes is to target the system that props them up by setting the kleptocratic bureaucracy & the secret police against each other e.g. Glorious Dictator A sends a purge order to ‘disappear’ a whistle-blower/democracy activist, order arrives at secret police HQ with names changed to relatives of the secret police chief planting suspicion and paranoia.

  3. From Rocket to Mock-It. That’s the thing about dictatorships: no matter how much they want to seem strong, they’re a lot more fragile than they’d like to admit. That’s why they can’t stand humor. Humor has a tendency to admit it. Comedy just naturally takes certain sides.

  4. And this is the problem, isn’t it? Using super technology (indistinguishable from magic) you may be able to turn a dictator purple, eavesdrop on his planning sections, twist his intelligence network …
    In real life perhaps the only thing that you can do is support the opposition and pray that they are not worse than the dictator.

  5. And that’s how the Rocket controlled every significant system in the world with an electrical or informational infrastructure, working through his list of pranks against regimes.
    Then he finished his list.
    “You know, I can see exactly where all those guys were doing it wrong – I’m not going to lead, I’m just going to… optimize things.”

  6. An engineering problem?

    I’m inclined to think engineers don’t know quite as much about things as they’d like to think, mostly because of Salem Hypothesis and people like Scott Adams or Mary Sue, the main character of the story Subjugation. Could be a case of a few bad apples spoiling the bunch.

    Then again, I’m more inclined to see History as the closest thing we have to evidence on how people will react in certain situations. My best conclusion so far: you can’t go wrong betting on stupidity to rear its head.

    Or, as it’s called in Internet Law terms, Hanlon’s Razor: “Never attributed to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.”

  7. LOL Nick’s prank reminded me of H.I.V.E, at least Otto’s prank on the minister anyway. And finally, I managed to catch up again.

  8. I sat down and thought about it for a little while and I think I’ve figured out about the best way that Nick could arrange something both effective and not reminiscent of villainy.

    Instead of killbots, make Tattlebots.

    Tattlebots watch over individuals, but they don’t do anything – unless their host is severely injured or killed, or if their host acts to injure or kill another.

    If that happens, the Tattlebots do one of two things.

    If they are near significant populations of other Tattlebots, they start broadcasting alarms and distributing recordings of the events to other nearby Tattlebots.

    If they are in an isolated place, the tattlebots use inertial path-finding to travel back to a significant population of tattlebots. If they have to, they turn on killbot fields in order to cut through obstacles.

    Tattlebots would never kill people, they only record, escape, and report.

    Let the heroes and police handle it from there.

  9. “There weren’t a lot of people would could survive an attack by a killbot.”
    Should be “who could”, I think.

  10. “an episode of a a children’s cartoon”: double ‘a’.

    Sheesh Nick, tackle the easy problems why don’t you? Way too many grey areas for my liking. I’m reminded of how the British cracked the German code during WW II but then had to sacrifice battles (and people) so that the Germans couldn’t know they’d done it. Sure, they weren’t directly killing their citizens, but people died. We don’t know what’s up in Turkmenistan. Perhaps a power vacuum right now would be worse? (This is why I’d never make it as a superhero, I wouldn’t want to make this kind of call.)

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