Off Campus: Part 6

“I’m not sure what power juice has to do with anything.”
Keith tilted his head, and said, “You know, the whole thing where power juice became illegal, making us all technically criminals? Plus, you remember Logan at our prom. He was a total druggie, and then he got into power juice and tried to eat the school.”
I shook my head. “Not an issue. I don’t have any powers, and it wasn’t illegal back then. All this amounts to is secret identities. To continue to have one, I have to keep mine secret. I haven’t told anyone who I am who hasn’t figured it out first. You didn’t figure it out, so I could avoid telling you.”

Keith nodded, straightening his back, and unclenching his fists. “I think I get that. You don’t stay secret if you tell people. That’s not an option for us.”

I looked him over, and then I thought of Zoey. “Oh. Right. I can see where Zoey’d have a hard time blending in.”

Keith glanced back toward Zoey, and then back to me. “It’s not so bad during the day, but at night it’s impossible to mistake her for someone without powers. It was the same for her mom. Of course, I’ve never met her mom. She died a few years back. She was fighting the Grey Giant.”

At that moment my brain made a few connections–light powers to Grey Giant to…

“Her mom was Lightweaver?” The name escaped my mouth as I noticed Zoey leaving the group behind us and moving in our direction.

Keith gave a start. “Wow. You know everybody’s names. I never understood how you knew them so well before.”

I shrugged. “I did play with the children and grandchildren of a lot of my grandfather’s friends, but honestly, your average capewatcher knows about as many names as I do. Mostly though, he doesn’t know them personally. You should meet my roommate from last year. He knows everybody–including a few things most capes don’t.”

Of course, Jeremy also believed in a pile of conspiracy theories that made pretty much zero sense. Only knowing my secret had pulled him out of that orbit.

It made me wonder if our secrets made things worse for society as a whole. On some level normal people had to notice that they weren’t being let in on the whole truth.

Did that make it our fault if they replaced our lies with even more bizarre lies of their own?

Zoey’s voice broke into my thoughts. She’d taken Keith’s hand, and said, “I hated them for a long time after my Mom died.”

“Yeah?” Keith’s voice quavered as he asked the question.

Zoey picked up a piece of spanakopita from the table, and ate it. “They never left us alone.”

Her arm’s movement left golden lines in the air. “We didn’t live in a compound, but our neighborhood was mostly capes. When my mom died people camped out on our lawn. Some of them even waited outside my school to tell my brothers and I how they grieved with us.”

She shook her head. “They didn’t grieve with us. They didn’t know us, or her. For them it was all codenames and costumes and fights on television.”

As she stopped, I realized that Haley joined us too–and not just her. Gifford, Hunter, Adam, Camille, and Courtney had all crowded around us.

That was a good thing. It meant that Zoey’s glow might be better hidden.

“It sounds awful,” Haley said. She stood next to me.

Zoey folded her arms across her chest. “It was, but most of them left after a few days.”

For a moment she didn’t say anything, but then she burst out with, “I’m awful. Now you all think I’m some kind of drama queen.”

“No,” Haley said, “if you want to talk about it, you should.”

“I think I’ll save it for our group therapy sessions.”

Keith raised an eyebrow. “Do we have group therapy sessions?”

Nodding, Haley said, “They start next week.”

“What a waste,” Gifford muttered.

Hunter laughed.

Zoey opened her mouth as if she were about to say something, but she didn’t.

Courtney said, “The way I heard it, it’s a way to get people to start thinking about why they’re doing this. I think it might be more focused on working with PTSD for people who fought against the aliens this spring.”

“What you get out of it depends on what you bring into it,” Adam broke in from the edges of the group. “Trust me on this one.”

“Hey,” Camille had turned away from the group, and was looking out the windows toward the crowd and the band below us. “We’re at a club. Let’s go downstairs.”

It didn’t take long before the group followed her.

* * *

I didn’t like dancing. Haley did. Don’t get me wrong. I liked some things about dancing. The slower dances gave Haley and I excuses to hold each other, but that only barely compensated for feeling awkward for three hours.

Knowing that, it’s not surprising that I was looking around the crowded building.

It’s equally unsurprising that I noticed a man off to the edges of the dance floor taking pictures of the crowd.

11 thoughts on “Off Campus: Part 6”

  1. I like Nick’s comments on conspiracy theory and conspiracy theorists…

    The whole issue of secrets is a difficult one. You get people saying “Why the secrecy when you’ve done nothing wrong?”, but, secrets, or restricting who knows what, is the basis of how society works – PINs for access to money are ‘secrets’, and ‘shared secrets’ are the basis of private exchanges. Without secrets it’s difficult to look after and do the things that you’re responsible for, or, to tell who was responsible for something that isn’t right. Super hero secrets helps make all this sort of thing clearer.

    Living in a society, as a (secret) super hero, where there are people hungry for super hero secrets… Difficult. And, people who can’t keep those secrets, because of their powers. Is Nick thinking about possible solutions, which don’t involve messing up cameras and surveillance kit? Could he build Zoey (whose presumably the current Lightweaver?) something to control or hide her involuntary light output? Say, a necklace using lasers, or some sort of EM field dampening? I suspect he’d need to turn to alien tech for something like a holo cloak.

    Gifford and Hunter are a bit short on the empathy, aren’t they? Glad to see Courtney, and Adam, making things clearer.

    Typo(s):

    “Keith tilted his head, and said, You know,”; missing open quotes before ‘You’?

    “I noticed a man of to the edges”; should that be ‘off’?

  2. Touched on a couple difficult issues here. Secrets is one, I would say stigmatizing getting caught doing illegal things is another (that’s how I read Keith’s reaction).

    In the U.S. we have some recent and rather confusing history with both of those and things get especially warped when they’re thrown together. Some parts of the government appear to have the hypocritical idea that they should have secrets but nobody else can. When the less open parts of this are exposed, criminalization is used as a tool. Allies in other parts of the government retroactively make less legal aspects legal while criminalizing the actions of people who pointed out the problem with those acts in the first place. And then there’s an awful lot of shaming and work on portraying the newly criminalized people in a bad light.

    It looks on the surface like a classic power play – when you have problems, if possible make them someone else’s problems. It’s interesting seeing some hints of that sort of conflict pop up in the story recently. Between attitudes at the school and his concern for what’s happening elsewhere in the world Nick is facing both sides of that issue.

  3. gotta say, @Michael, that thought made me laugh. But it would just let the man know that there were supers there, i think. It would be better to just blur everything slightly, so that nobody can be recognized.

  4. “Knowing that, it’s not surprising that I was looking around the crowded building.”

    Hopefully he wasn’t foolish enough to be doing this when he’s dancing with Haley on those slow dances.

  5. When Dark Cloak showed up last chapter, I went back and read the chapter where he first appeared. It’s oddly relevant because Nick was thinking to himself about how he had done many things that were technically crimes in his investigation, but the FBI was ignoring it and congratulating him.

    That’s been a reoccurring theme through the series. The original League of Heroes members knew that they were vigilantes and technically criminals, which the authorities ignored because of their usefulness. Over and over we’ve seen that the law frequently is ignored when it comes to superheroes. They get away with things. It’s actually pretty corrupt when you think about it.

  6. There’s an idea called ‘sacred monsters’, though I don’t think it’s mainstream.

    These get to do things society needs doing, but is unhappy about, and in return they are treated with respect, and let get away with things which no one else is allowed to. Soldiers may have been treated like this to some extent, and the results of things like PTSD regarded as ‘acceptable foibles’. That’s different from what the rich and powerful could get away with, because they’re ‘untouchable’. Executioners, those who use the axe or rope for the law, sometimes were treated as ‘sacred monsters’. I’m sure there are other examples.

    I wonder if, in the LoN setting super heroes might, in some ways, be ‘sacred monsters’?

  7. And this is the problem, isn`t it?
    There are thousands of concrete examples in the real world, but I will tell you one that happened in my University.
    One student told a professor to: “Keep the door to your room closed because I am always passing by”.
    Said student even put it in writing.
    Same student also was very rude with me (I was his adivisor) but was carefull enough to avoid a direct offense.
    OK, the university opened a process against this boy (he is not a man in my opinion, we found that he beat a girlfriend some years ago) and it is possible that he will be expelled.
    But since it is a public university we can`t forbid him from going into the campus.
    So, how do we avoid a Columbine?

    Well, besides this little problem he once came very, very close to threaten my two years old daughter. IF he had done this, …

    Lets say that I understand why in some special circumstances the rule of the law is very difficult to follow.
    You see, one boy and a weak one at that and he can do a lot of bad things because we are forced to give chances.
    Some of the female teachers said that they passed him because they felt threatened and the process to expel the boy is long, we can`t tell security to keep him away from the university.
    Some of our security guards are clearly considering the “he disappeared” solution, none of them said anything, but I can see it in their faces.
    If this boy disappears, nobody will try to find out why, he had a fight with his dad and beat his mother.
    This is when the sacred monster solution gets tempting. I pray that we will find another way.

    1. I can’t help but feel its part of the everybody is a winner mentality that seems to invading education. IMHO that is a poor service to students at any level. Because real life sure as hell isnt like that. Failure is just as big a part of life as winning and often teaches us more.

  8. Yeah, it’s interesting how the same themes return… related, I’m impressed how it’s all weaving together in this universe, in particular between Adam and Keith as elements out of Nick’s past, and where they are now.

    Totally unrelated, “spanakopita” scans as vaguely naughty when you’re not reading closely, and I was wondering what Zoey had against pita bread.

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