Burning: Part 2

“Go ahead,” I said. “We’re not saving space for anybody.”

Even if we had been, there were plenty of spaces on either side of us. Gordon sat down.

He’d loaded his tray down with breakfast food–french toast, eggs, sausages, bacon, hash browns, fruit salad and a chunk of beef.

Evidently he was one of those supers who needed more food than average.

“Great job, by the way,” he said. “I watched yesterday’s fight. After all of that running, you still took them down practically before the fight began. I want to say I could have done the same, but those Cabal students put an wrench into things. I’m an aerokinetic like my younger brother, and you’d think I could throw them into the air and keep them there, but if they ever touch and push off each other all bets are off.”

“Thanks,” I said. “I was a little worried you might be angry or something.”

“At you?” Gordon clapped me on the back. “Don’t worry about it. Gifford needs to learn some humility. He’s been talking and talking about this with his friends. I think he expected to be ruling the roost by now.”

I didn’t know what to say to that, so I didn’t say anything. Gordon didn’t need any encouragement to keep talking though.

“Besides, it’s better that Gifford learns he can lose here than during a fight. Even better that he learns that someone with no powers at all can take him out.”

I wasn’t sure I liked how he’d said that, but I couldn’t put my finger on why, and he’d already started talking again.

“I’m not saying you’re not tough, but you’re only really a threat when you’re in that armor. Gifford needs to learn that technology makes up for a lot–even regular technology, and you’re far ahead of that.”

“He’s got more going for him than technology,” Haley said. “He’s been training with Gunther for years.”

She could have added that I’d also been trained in tactics by an alien battle simulation AI, but I was grateful she hadn’t. It was probably best that people didn’t know about that.

“That counts for a lot, I’m sure,” he said. “And you are?”

“Haley,” she said. “And also Night Cat.”

“Oh,” he said, glancing at me, and probably remembering that Night Cat and the Rocket were together. “Interesting, I should have guessed you’d be here, but your class is enormous. With all the kids whose powers were activated by Nick’s grandfather’s machine, one more person–even if they’re a Heroes League member–gets lost in the shuffle.”

“I know,” Haley said. “I still haven’t even met your brother.”

Gordon nodded. “I believe you.” Looking across the table toward Camille, he said, “I know I haven’t seen you before.”

She grinned at him. “I’ve seen you. You were guiding groups upstairs when I came in. I’m Camille. When I work with the Heroes League, I use Gravitystar. I used to be in a group some friends started called Justice Fist.”

“Justice Fist?” Gordon shook his head. “It sounds familiar, but I don’t remember the group.”

Camille waved it past with one hand. “Don’t worry about it. We weren’t together very long.”

With that, we all settled into eating.

After a minute of that Camille asked, “Are you and Gifford descended from anyone we’ve heard of?”

Gordon finished chewing his sausage, and said, “That depends. Have you ever heard of Moonglider?”

“No kidding?” I stopped eating, thinking back to what I knew of that hero. “I didn’t know he had powers. I always assumed he used some kind of anti-gravity technology, or, I don’t know, really good glider technology. Knowing that he was an aerokinetic explains things. He was a lot weaker than either of you, right?”

Gordon nodded. “He could keep himself in the air, and direct his glider suit, but not much else. He used weapons to fight, not air. I’m surprised you’ve heard of him. He was only active for about ten years, and stopped when I was born.”

I shrugged. “It’s not too big a surprise. I saw plans with his name on them in Grandpa’s files. He must have designed some of your father’s devices. If he didn’t, Moonglider at least asked Grandpa for a quote.”

Gordon nodded slowly. “That explains it. Dad made his own suit, but he wasn’t really an inventor. I had no idea where his devices came from. It makes sense that some of them are Rocket tech. Do you want to see them sometime? A few of them need to be fixed.”

“Is that going to be okay with your dad? If he’s not doing this anymore, he might want to leave his stuff the way it was during his last fight or something.”

Gordon shook his head. “Don’t worry about it. My dad’s dead. He got hit by a car and died a few years ago.”

Camille said, “I’m sorry to hear that,” before I managed to get anything out. I did add, “Me too,” before he said, “Thanks. We all miss him. Gifford and I are hoping to do right by him in the program.”

He looked us over. “What do you think about Turkmenistan? With everything they’ve been doing against their own people lately, I think someone ought to go in and take out the regime.”

18 thoughts on “Burning: Part 2”

  1. Is Gordon making useful contacts, or does he have some other agenda? Interesting that he’s both talking-down and willing to take favours from Nick, as Rocket. You might get the impression he’s not very well plugged into the supers scene, or, has very patchy knowledge, and he doesn’t seem to recognise the implications of training from Gunther. Does Haley like the idea of fading into the background?

    Inter-generational supers interaction/politics…

    Surviving as a super then dying from… No one lives forever, but (assuming Gordon is both being truthful and is correct) a little sad. Implication is that Moonglider retired from hero-ing to raise a family, too; might make you wonder about Gordon and Gifford’s mother.

    Suspicious people might wonder if their mother is also dead, and that this, with suitable prep, could be a convenient way to have a credible background…

    The political stirring is also interesting.


    “He’d avoided loaded his tray down with breakfast food”, should that be ‘loading’? Also, I’m not sure this paragraph makes sense – is he avoiding cereal-type or ‘light’ breakfast food to go for a ‘heavier’ meal?

    “I get something in before “, should that be ‘got’?

  2. Some of the behaviour Gordon sees in his younger brother can be attributed to him, too. So far I am not sure I like him.

    It’s not the power that makes the hero, although it definitely helps. If you find a “normal” who can run with supers, then they are probably pretty badass and not someone you can take lightly.

    Nick already saved the world at least once and it wasn’t his armor that enabled him to find and destroy the bombs.
    Hailey seems to be at ease with not being the center of attention, which is a good trait in a hero, I think. Especially for the “shadow in the night” kind of hero. 😉

    The Turkmenistan issue reminds me of the Superman problem: What happens if you solve all the problems people created?
    Each time Superman stops a bank robbery, he’s doing the job of the police. Each time he blows out a fire, each time he carries someone to the hospital, he’s doing the job of the emergency services. After a while there wouldn’t be a demand to hire or employ police officers or emergency workers because Superman is doing it all for free.
    Which all leads to this: A superhero should only take care of things that no one else can handle. Mainly, that’s fights against supervillains or natural disasters. That doesn’t mean they can’t rescue people from burning buildings but they should be aware of the issue.
    Turkmenistan is such an issue. There are diplomats who can handle this. There is the UN, the NATO and then there are a lot of political and economic measures that can be taken before anyone has to resort to armed conflict.

  3. As a rule, mucking about in the politics of a sovereign nation is bad karma. The US has proved it quite disastrously with its snowballing mistakes in the Middle East.

  4. Minor typo just to let you know I’m still reading:

    “but those Cabal students put an wrench into things.”

    I think that should be “a wrench”.

  5. I’ve had to have that same conversation about going in and taking people out just because they’re screwing up their own country. Yeah, you may have good intentions, but chances are good it just won’t work, mainly because it’s gone bad so many times before.

    Not that that makes it any less tough of a choice when you’ve got people being imprisoned, tortured, and/or killed by their own government for no reason.

    Also, I hate to say it, but I don’t think you’re going to see any more meaningful progress on this Kickstarter. The good news is that the next one you do already has a head start.

  6. PG,
    when it comes to that, you put the tools in peoples hands. Mostly the good guys. Occasionally a tool or two to the bad guys can fix a lot of things.

    Let the people on the ground fix the issues.

  7. Hey Jim, I was wondering if you could give a more detailed description of Flame Legion other than a solid red body suit.

  8. Gordan seems like a decent, reasonable guy, who has happened to have been raised in a subtly prejudiced environment where the demarcation between super and non was ever so insidiously made clear, and where the correct response has always been to subdue the morally inferior with force.

  9. We tried that, Mian, and that didn’t work out so well, either. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Arms and training to various folks, one of which turned out to be Osama Bin Laden. He got it into his head that a guerrilla group like his could be responsible for taking down the Soviet Union with god on his side. No, literally, he is quoted as giving credit to the resistance and god for the dissolution of the USSR.

    A big problem is that any chaotic environment post-revolution involves a power vacuum that is far too easily exploited by those who shouldn’t have power. You know how you’re more likely to get sociopaths in upper management because they’re the ones to step on people and make immoral decisions on the way to the top?

    Imagine if instead of Wall Street, you’re looking at a country that’s just had it’s political body wiped away. There are no checks, no balances, no mediating force. The military is in shambles, or maybe they’re propping up such a strong man. Any government is just as legitimate as any other because the line of succession has already been shot. Sometimes literally, depending on how much ammo they had left.

    Blowing up another country isn’t the way to handle that one.

  10. The team on the Captain America film “the First Avenger” suggested that superheroes and villains establish an equilibrium that prevents them from changing society. Cap didn’t punch out Hitler and win the war because Red Skull kept him occupied. That’s why Reed Richards hasn’t cured cancer – Dr Doom keeps him busy.

    Politically, regime change is risky – you trade the devil you know for the one you don’t. Chekov’s gun suggests the League will go in anyway, but it isn’t smart not to follow official channels – too many chances for reprisals and diplomatic errors. I wouldn’t trust teens with navigating the fallout on this one, or understanding the geopolitical angles. The “stan” ending implies a country like Afghanistan or Pakistan – religious connotations to go along with the political ones. Good luck with that one, Leaguers.

    Makes one long for the good old days when heroes could punch out Nazis and Latverian tyrants with gusto.

  11. Note that Turkmenistan is a real country; in fact, it is the former USSR republic that borders Afghanistan and Iran. It is notable nowadays for a place called the “Door to Hell”…

    Also, just because the current storyline is discussing abuse of power by superpowered folks doesn’t mean we’ll actually get to see the League doing the freedom fighter thing halfway across the world. Even if Camille doesn’t know better, everybody who can operate the Jet does…

  12. About the “Overthrowing a govn’t for their own good” thing:

    The problem isn’t “more developed” countries meddling in the affairs of “Less developed” countries- it’s what happens when they stop halfway. Like others said, leaving that power vacuum is about the worst thing you can do for a place or people- the classic “We have destroyed the evil, but that has just left a vacuum for a greater evil to occupy” sort of thing.

    If a “Western” country wants to change a region “for the better”, they have to essentially take over completely for at least 1 or 2 generations- imposing their morality and social norms on the population, providing advanced medicine and less corrupt judiciary forces and educating the general populace. That way, when the people ‘rise up against the oppressive regime!’ and the controlling country leaves, the people who take over are used to and consider normal a country where the government serves and protects the people instead of ruling and exploiting them, and haven’t grown up in the sort of situation that breeds selfish violence and mistrust.

  13. I have to say that Jim’s got some potential to put Nick in a really hard decision-making place here.

    It’s pretty obvious to anyone that the potential for things to go horribly wrong with some sort of brute force attempt to use supers to topple the government of a country, or teach sociopathic politicians a lesson.

    History proves that sociopathic politicians never learn to treat people better. At best they learn to better disguise how they treat people badly, and how to trick other people into doing the dirty work for them, several steps removed.

    Nick will almost certainly understand this. At the same time, Nick is a decent person. He’s a young adult. I don’t think it’s fair to call him a kid after recent events. Killing people tends to make you grow up really fast, but he’s still young and generally optimistic.

    Nick has access to a military AI. He has access to robots the size of roaches, and perhaps smaller, that can easily kill people.

    Is Nick going to have the clever idea to begin an assassination program? Lots of observer bots, feeding data to the military AI. The military AI sifts through the data feed from the observer bots and brings things to Nick’s attention. A politician acts on a plan to kill an opponent? Killbot. A dictator kills the inhabitants of a village because one of them broke some minor law? Killbot. Someone is observed ordering torture. Killbot.

    From Nick’s point of view, something like this *might* even work. At the very least, he can be highly selective about who gets killed, and if he can maintain the program, and it’s moderately successful, there will be two effects. First, fewer sociopaths in the world. Is sociopathic behavior entirely learned, or are there some biological components? Second, lots of examples of sociopathic behavior leading directly to death. Even if he can’t completely stop atrocities, if people throughout the world know what is almost certain to happen to them if they enact or plan an atrocity, well, that’s got to cut down on the number of people who will act atrociously, right? It’ll take a while for people to recognize the pattern, but eventually people who might be tempted to perform or order atrocious acts will learn that doing so is a death sentence, right?

    Logically, reasoning like this holds water, but I don’t think that Nick, even though he’s grown hugely since we first met him, really understands that people who are not sane are not going to act logically. Sane people are simply not wired properly to easily understand people who aren’t sane.

    This type of a storyline could lead to some terribly dark places, if Nick actually implements something like this. I can’t see him doing it without at least consulting with Lee. I think I can confidently state that Lee understands insane people. We might see Lee open up a bit and show Nick the results of his potential future actions.

    Daniel would probably be apoplectic if he detected thoughts like that running around in Nick’s head, which could lead to some very powerful interactions between the two of them.

    Nick’s PTSD might be used as an example to him about how even he acts irrationally at times. Sure, maybe his irrationality just leads to him freaking out a bit when he’s in a crowded place, but it’s a stepping stone to understanding people who simply don’t think logically.

    This has the potential to go MANY different directions. I’m really looking forward to reading what happens next, Jim.

  14. You know what happens next? WAR. As in, Nick, aka War. He’s seen, firsthand, what happens. That’s actually part of what they’re fighting to prevent (unless it was explicitly stated that WAR was caused by the neutron bombs instead of anything else).

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