Off Campus: Part 8

Haley and I both laughed a little at that. Ironically, if we had broken his camera, the trend would have continued. Calling us celebrities wouldn’t be quite accurate, but thanks to our grandparents, the Rocket and Night Cat were household names.

Then Haley’s expression changed to a frown, and she glanced backward. I followed her gaze to see Gifford walking towards us followed by Hunter, Courtney, Camille, and Keon.

Gifford reached us first, taking long steps that I hoped weren’ t obviously boosted with his power–a hope that ended as a gust of wind passed me.

For his sake, I hoped that Gifford didn’t have a secret identity.

Whatever the truth was, he stopped to the left of where I stood facing the photographer. Scowling as his eyes found the man’s camera bag, he said, “Who’s this guy?”

“I don’t know,” I said.

Gifford glared up toward the man’s face. “Who were you taking pictures of?”

The photographer shrugged, his expression hidden behind his beard except that his eyes narrowed as his hands tightened on his camera.

If that meant he was nervous, it was understandable. He stood with his back against a concrete wall with all of us surrounding him.

“I’m not doing anything illegal.” The photographer glanced down at the back of the camera.

I wondered if it was on, and if he was recording this.

Gifford took a step toward him. “You didn’t answer my question. Let me guess. You’re one of the paparazzi. You take pictures of celebrities, especially if it makes them look bad, and then you sell them. Am I right?”

The photographer shrugged. “First amendment rights, kid. We’ve got a free press. I’m a member who’s doing his job.”

Gifford shook his head. “That’s BS. You’re a fucking parasite.”

Gifford clenched his fists, and took a step closer to the photographer. That’s when it struck me that I ought to start doing something about this.

Not that I had the faintest clue what I ought to do.

Before I could come up with a good plan, or even a bad plan, Hunter stopped behind me, a little to my left–between Gifford and me.

It didn’t take a genius to spot how the photographer’s eyes settled on Hunter, and he smiled a little.

That’s when it fell into place for me. Hunter’s mom knew the owner. Hunter came here often. Everyone knew about the training going on in Castle Rock. It didn’t take much to guess that heroes would appear here sooner or later.

Hunter frowned at him and shook his head. “I hate these guys.”

Then he pulled out his phone, thought better of it, and put it back in his pocket. “I’m getting a bouncer. Don’t let him leave.”

“Isn’t that why you’re getting the bouncers?” I asked his back as he walked away.

He didn’t give any sign he’d heard me, and probably hadn’t. The music overpowered almost every other sound.

Gifford stared at the man. “Don’t move until the bouncers come back to escort you out.”

The photographer looked him in the eye. “How are you going to keep me here? Hold me down? Beat me unconscious? I don’t know what they’re teaching you in superhero school, but that’s against the law. I’ve got a buddy here, and he’s taking pictures of us all right now. You touch me and it’ll be on the internet in seconds.”

Next to me, Haley muttered, “He’s lying.”

Gifford put his hands in his pockets and smirked at the man. “I don’t need my hands to keep you here.”

“Yeah?” The photographer said. “What are you? Telekinetic?”

“Not saying, but don’t push me.” Gifford stared at him. It probably would have been more intimidating if the photographer weren’t half a foot taller.

“You know what?” the man said. “I’m leaving. You can stop me if you want, but be ready for the civil suit. You may think you’re heroes, but you’re really just a bunch of thugs.”

Then he lifted his leg, and took a step.

I stepped forward, moving myself between Gifford and the man. Wind pushed against me, but not enough to knock me over.

With a strangled sound in his throat, Gifford said, “What do you think you’re doing?”

“I’m trying to stop you from making a mistake.”

Behind me, the photographer said, “Get out of my way.”

Keon’s voice said, “I’m not going anywhere. If you want to leave, you’re going to have to punch out a guy in a wheelchair.”

Meanwhile Gifford said, “Move, or I take you out with him.”

“No,” Haley said. “If you touch him, you’ll be on the floor before you know it.”

Camille’s voice broke through the endless thumping bass line. “Everyone relax. He’s back.”

He was. Two beefy men in black t-shirts that said “Club 32,” walked ahead of Hunter.

“I’m sorry sir,” one of them said. “Photography isn’t permitted in the club without permission.”

Keon wheeled himself backwards, opening up a gap between himself and Courtney big enough for a man to get through.

The photographer held up his hands. “Fine, show me out the doors.”

Hunter shook his head, “Wait. First I need to see your pictures.”

12 thoughts on “Off Campus: Part 8”

  1. Error: That’s when it struck me that ought to start doing something about this.

    Fixed:
    That’s when it struck me that I ought to start doing something about this.

  2. Jim, I really appreciate how you are managing the social commentary on teenagers with superpowers. I can actually imagine a group of late teens, early twenties people with powers doing exactly what you’re writing right now. The direct aggression, passive-aggression, and Nick as the one with more common sense than most who is trying to defuse things is all very solid-feeling. The paparazzi guy is well done too, those people are nuts, and I could easily see them standing up to a pack of super-powered teens like he just did. Granted, later in the evening, after he gets his film to a safe place, he’s probably going to work hard at getting drunk to stop the shakes.

    In fact, now that I think about it, I’ve both seen and read about exactly this same thing happening with young soldiers. Our real world soldiers don’t have superpowers, but the combination of training as a unit, encouraging aggression, youthful poor judgment, and overconfidence is something that every military organization has to rigorously control in their lower ranking enlisted.

    1. Thanks. Not having any real examples to go off, all I have are guesses.

      My guess though is that legacy supers would inhabit a social spot somewhere in between soldiers and child stars.

      While I can’t say I’ve seen this kind of thing happen with military units, I did spend a lot of time on sports teams in my teens. I’m sure I’m drawing a little inspiration from there.

  3. Yeah, this scans really well. It looks like this arc will be dealing with that thread of entitlement / superiority that’s been lurking just beneath the surface of the super world since just about page one. I like it! I especially like that it coincides with the return of Dark Cloak, who first prompted Nicks realization of just how dangerous this version of the USAs treatment of supers really is. I agreed, and still do, with pretty much everything Nicks dad said at the time. LoN verse is just begging for a group of for the greater good style superhero dictators to show up.

  4. I suppose it depends on the scale and frequency of the powers. If one in three people is a peter parker, I don’t think a lot would change. Throw in half a dozen Superman or Martian Manhunter types and democracy lasts only as long as they allow it. As is, hereditary wealth already distorts democracy. People with disproportionate power, money or telepathy, wield disproportionate influence.

    Monarchy’s greatest flaw, in terms of stability, was always that a successful king could have lackluster children. No one’s going to impeach Superman Jr. unless he allows it.

  5. I’m surprised that Nick stuck around after the rest came. If I were him, I’d have snuck out before the photographer realized that I was one of them.

  6. I’d like to clarify my earlier comment. A group of young enlisted soldiers or sailors in a bar can very quickly escalate a minor disagreement into a fight. Especially if there is another group of soldiers or sailors on the other side of the argument.

    Each side is trained to work together, to fight together and watch each other’s back. They are given confidence through training. Then there’s simple mob mentality. The more people there are, the more likely things are to get out of control. All of these things, with a couple beers added in, tend to lead to fights pretty regularly. This, in turn, leads to many KP hours and other sorts of “special duty” like cleaning latrines with old toothbrushes, etc. Enough toilet cleaning and potato-peeling generally leads to slightly more responsibility for one’s actions when out on the bar scene with the rest of the squad.

  7. This is one of the scenes that stayed memorable, years later.

    My feelings on it are pretty much the same, too. It truly is a pity that both sides can’t lose. Gifford and the photographer are both entitled asshats.

    And that’s how you know that I wouldn’t be a hero. I’d just sit back and watch how it all played out.

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