Burning: Part 3

Camille nodded. “I don’t think I’d overthrow a country, but it would be nice to be able to do something. I don’t know how many people the regime killed, but it’s a lot.”

She glanced over at Haley and me. “Right?”

“Hundreds last night,” Haley said. “That’s what the TV was saying when I turned it on.”

Gordon nodded slowly. “Thousands over the last few weeks. Look, I know we’re not going to do it, but we’ve got the power to end it right here–definitely in the room, but maybe even at this table.”

I looked up at down the table from the side where the sun streamed in, bringing out the redness in the rocks all the way to the far wall where the stained rocks glistened.

I guessed there might be fifty people at the table. He had a point there. Fifty people with powers could do some damage.

Not that the world needed or wanted more damage.

I stopped eating, and looked at him. “Are you sure it needs to be us? The government officials handling this might have a good reason for what they’re doing? Plus maybe there’s more going on than we know of. Maybe we’ve already got people on the ground, and the news can’t report it because they don’t know either.”

Gordon tilted his head. “You think we’ve got a mission going there already?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe there’s lots of diplomatic communication going on right now, or maybe they’re not going in for a reason?”

He nodded at me, but this nod was less of an “I’m listening” nod, and more of a “prove it” nod.

I wasn’t in any position to prove it either. When Daniel and I had talked about it last night, he’d mentioned that his dad thought Turkmenistan’s regime worked with the Nine.

That wasn’t something I felt I could pass on.

Gordon started talking before I felt tempted in any case. “It might be that they do have a reason, but it may be that they’re not all that good at it. Think about it, for all the supervillains we’ve had, I’d say the worst people in history have been normal humans—Hitler, Stalin, and who knows how many others? They commanded supers, but it’s not like supers came up with the ideas, you know?”

Gordon leaned back in his chair. “I’m sure you’re smarter than most of those guys.”

“Could be,” I said, “but I’m pretty sure I don’t want to run a country. If people wanted ideas about how to make things work better, I’d offer suggestions, but beyond that I’m not.”

Gordon waved my objection away. “That’s not my point. You might not be interested in running a country, but some supers must be. I bet they’d do a better job of it too. What’s too bad is that they never try. I’d bet Guardian’s popular enough to make a serious run for office if he ever retires from the Defenders and wanted to. He’s far from the only one.”

Next to me, Haley listened with an odd expression on her face. “Are you sure it would work? To me it seems like leading people in a fight is completely different from running a government. I’ve led people in fights, and I wouldn’t have any idea how to become president. My dad runs a small corporation, and he told me it’s not the same thing, but that still sounds closer than running a superhero team.”

Gordon shook his head as if wishing away Haley’s questions. “It’s different. Totally different. Someone like Guardian’s been in the public eye for years. He’s talked with presidents. People like you and me are small timers. He’s been around forever. People at his level have got the skills they need.”

Another voice broke in. “What are you talking about? Something boring?”

Tara, another upperclassman, stood next to the table with a tray of food. As tall as I was, or maybe a little taller, Tara had a square jaw, and blonde, shoulder length hair. She wore yoga pants and a red University of Missouri hoodie.

Her hair was still slightly wet. Hopefully that meant she’d recently gotten up as opposed to showering after a workout.

It still hurt me to move.

Camille said, “Gordon thinks supers should rule the world.” She said it with a grin and glance at Gordon that made it clear to me that she was teasing him as much as answering.

Tara’s expression hardened, and she said, “No. Not a good idea.”

Then she walked away.

Gordon blinked, and Camille watched her walk away, whispering to Haley, “Did I say something wrong?”

Haley said, “No,” but bit her lip as she glanced over toward the table where Tara sat down alone.

Gordon got up with his food. “I should go say something to her.”

Then he left.

Camille looked from Haley to me. “What happened there?”

Haley said, “I’m not sure, but remember how the leader of the St. Louis Defenders group died last year when we were there? That was her father.”

Camille’s brows wrinkled. “How does that go together with supers taking over?”

“I can answer that one,” I said. My sister Rachel had told me the story. “She comes from another universe where genetically engineered supers took over and destroyed every last normal human. Her mother and father come from different strains of those supers. They killed her mother because they didn’t like that she’d created a mixed child. She grew up on the run with her father.”

Camille stared.

“I’m guessing,” I said, “but I think that’s it.”

18 thoughts on “Burning: Part 3”

  1. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I’ll point out that we’re in the last days of the Kickstarter. If you haven’t donated and want to, this is your last chance. It ends on Friday at midnight (I’m not sure of the timezone).

    If you can’t donate, that’s fine, but if you feel the urge, the Kickstarter page includes easy social media links that you can use to promote it on Facebook and Twitter.

    That said, I’m happy and grateful for how it’s gone.

    Hope you enjoy the current update.

    1. I’m two years behind. This is one of the best stories I have read and I wish I could have contributed. I’ve been reading since Memorial day 2016. I can’t wait to see what happens

      1. I’m glad you’re enjoying it. Getting through it is now is equivalent to almost nine books, and you’ve done most of it over the course of not quite two weeks. That’s impressive.

  2. Errors

    I looked up at down the table from the side where the sun streamed in, bringing out the redness in the rocks all the way to the far wall where the stained rocks glistened.

    I wouldn’t have any idea how become president

    I wouldn’t have any idea how to become president

    Tara and a square jaw, and blonde, shoulder length hair.

    Tara had a square jaw, and blonde, shoulder length hair.

  3. I hope Tara gets a happy ending. Her life has been way too crappy so far. The League should realy reach out to her in friendship, especially since they were cooperating with her father when he died.

  4. I’m not liking this Gordon fellow. He’s smart in a way, but so narrow minded it makes him stupid. A super ruling a country would be like, well, a powerful guy more power. And you know what they say about power… Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely… It would only lead to something like this Turkmenistan scenario

  5. There’s nothing that says someone with superpowers will necessarily be bad at ruling a nation or a city, but being somehow “better” than most of the other citizens does tend to skew behavior. Mayor Bouman seemed pretty competent; when under the influence he managed to improve Grand Lake a lot, and Daniel practically couldn’t find dirt on him. Of course, he had to ruin it all by believing that his ends justify the means and also being part of an ancient, Illuminati-like conspiracy to take over the world by eugenics, bit hey, nobody’s perfect. 😛

  6. Serious politics here… Traditionally, relying on strength, of any sort, as the logic to choose a leader, ruler, president… has been shown to have problems. Getting rulership from your parents, or relative – not proved to be ideal. Heinlein’s quote about democracy, “Democracy is a poor system of government at best; the only thing that can honestly be said in its favor is that it is eight times as good as any other method the human race has ever tried”, is best not forgotten.

    The situation is even worse in the LoN world. Power is shifting, changing, so fast that traditional political structures are fighting hard to keep up. You never know where the next problem is coming from: space, parallel dimensions, home-grown supers. About the only thing that’s saving them is that society is a “collaborative exercise”, and organisations like the League, and individuals like Nick, are doing their best to keep things working.

  7. Jim, I hit the bit below the asterisks and stumbled. When I first read it, I was reading fairly quickly through, and there’s a double meaning that threw me. You used “That wasn’t something I felt I could pass on.” to indicate that Nick couldn’t repeat information that seemed likely to be restricted or classified. I initially read it as meaning it was something that Nick didn’t feel he could avoid talking about. But then he avoided talking about it.

    The second part that threw me was when Gordon split up his speech.

    I initially read “I’m sure you’re smarter than most of those guys.” as being a statement from Nick, but then Nick immediately started talking again.

    Was “I’m sure you’re smarter than most of those guys.” meant to be part of the paragraph before it? As I read it now, it seems clear that Gordon probably paused and/or emphasized that sentence, but if he did emphasize it, you didn’t clue in the reader about the emphasis except by separating the sentence from the rest of the paragraph.

    OK, that’s enough of me picking at the construction 🙂


    That wasn’t something I felt I could pass on.

    Gordon started talking before I felt tempted in any case. “It might be that they do have a reason, but it may be that they’re not all that good at it. Think about it, for all the supervillains we’ve had, I’d say the worst people in history have been normal humans—Hitler, Stalin, and who knows how many others? They commanded supers, but it’s not like supers came up with the ideas, you know?

    “I’m sure you’re smarter than most of those guys.”

    “Could be,” I said, “but I’m pretty sure I don’t want to run a country. If people wanted ideas about how to make things work better, I’d be interested, but beyond that I’m not.”

  8. Nick is probably right, but the fact that he just blurted it out in public at a long table with fifty supers eating at it should earn him a stern talking-to from Haley about discretion. He knew not to talk about the Nine in another country. He understands that there are some things that shouldn’t be talked about in public, but he needs another lesson, because it’s very possible that he might hurt someone badly by being that enormously indiscrete.

  9. Hi there all! I’m new to the story and just finished reading the entire backlog. I love this world! I did have a question though, Jim are we ever going to see or learn more about Nick’s potential powers? His sister seems to be pretty potent and although originally believed to be quite weak the improved version of the power impregnatoe that’s in the works could surely remedy that situation right? I only ask out of curiosity and because the possibility to become a powered individual amongst his fellow capes feels like it would come up with all of the other newly empowered supers. Especially if it were a mental power, or even an intelligence boost. Anyway that’s my first post. Keep up the awesome writing and I’m glad to be here.

  10. Thanks to Farmerbob1 and Jeff for the corrections. I think I’ve fixed and/or clarified things.

    Farmerbob1: I think with Nick the process of figuring something out and answering a question is first in his mind. The question of whether the question should be answered here sometimes gets shoved to the side by the interesting problem that he’s been posed.

    Alex: I’m always glad to find that someone’s made it all the way through the archives (currently equivalent to 6+ novels). With regards to Nick’s potential powers… That may come up soon. To be honest, and possibly spoilery (not an actual word), I think Nick is more interesting as a character without powers–though that doesn’t preclude something very small I suppose.

  11. Interesting… I always assumed that Nick’s power was his intelligence, especially after the comment that the power detection fluid wasn’t good at registering subtle powers.

  12. Yeah, he makes intuitive leaps in technical problems all the time and manages extremely difficult workloads without much stress – university students everywhere would like to disagree if you don’t call that a superpower. It’s not flashy, but it’s enough to put him on a level with plenty of fairly physically powerful supers – ideally, the power impregnator would just boost his information retention and degree of intuitive leaps.
    Or give him the ability to phase his fingernails, and only his fingernails, through things.
    Or the ability to phase a certain (low) percentage of his body mass out, but to make that percentage come from anywhere.
    Or instinctual fighting!

  13. Nick is probably the most interesting character in LoN.

    What distinguishes humans from animals is the effective use of intelligence, not incredible strength, toughness, or other super powers. You can make a good case that Nick has “intuitive manipulative intelligence” – he doesn’t know how he does it, but he can work out how things might be done, in ways that would take years of work by a non-super human genius. Whether that genius extends into areas like politics, well, Nick probably doesn’t have the knowledge to work with, and, he doesn’t seem to have the ability to acquire (non-technical) knowledge incredibly quickly.

    As to what powers a power impregnated Nick might acquire (without changing the essence of who he would seem to be) – yes, that’s difficult.

    One of the things which wrecked more recent versions of Tony Stark/Iron Man for me were the ‘Ultimate’ versions, and making him a distributed (throughout his body) intelligence, a cyborg, with a built-in power supply, or Extremis nanotech enhancement. (Though, the original Stark needing an external pacemaker to stay alive shouldn’t be forgotten.) I like that Nick is far more in the spirit of ‘a genius in power armour of his own construction’ – which is arguably more human.

    Possibly ‘speed reading’ combined with absorbing what’s read into (at least temporary) usable knowledge would make sense?

    Maybe a really short range (even a few inches would be good, maybe up to three feet) ability to concentrate so as to look past opaque barriers, possibly restricted to constructed/non-living materials? That would, if it was a bit like mentally peeling-away layers of different materials, be useful for technical purposes. It could also be a ‘phase’ power, moving sight out of phase with normal physical reality. Being able to use hearing similarly might be good for some work. Or, a related sense of touch which tells Nick more about materials that he can get his hands on, or very close to. (Also, smell, taste, etc…)

    For fun, Nick might need a gadget which resonates particularly with his own abilities, to use the ability without too much strain on him (avoiding headaches and tiredness); powered goggles (headphones, gloves) would be traditional.

    Just a thought…

  14. Jim,

    I was certainly not criticizing that you wrote Nick as blurting out something he shouldn’t. I was just making sure that the opportunity was there for Haley to take a swipe at Nick. And, in this case, Nick could legitimately swipe back because Haley was the one who mentioned enough that people could make connections with a little digging. While Nick and Haley seem like nice kids, sometimes they seem too nice, especially for a couple that’s been together long enough to know each other reasonably well. They have certainly had arguments, but most of them appear to happen off-camera.

    1. That’s true. Ideally more of their relationship should be visible in the story, but I’ve been a little hesitant as I remember the sort of arguments in relationships I had at that age. Some wouldn’t help the story. Some would make Haley or Nick look worse in a story than in real life.

      Still the fact that Haley has more social intelligence than Nick probably ought to be more of a point of conflict than it is.

  15. This is another of those chapters that left ideas floating around in my head long after I’d read it. This time, the thought was that in a certain light, rulership by the superpowed is perhaps a bit more ‘honest’. At least in the sense that any government mostly only exists at their tolerance.

    On the other hand, fighting and governing are both skills, and they will each take all the time you can devote to it. The most powerful warrior, therefor, would probably suck at managing a nation.

    So how to reconcile this? Well, I see governance as a multi-person problem, which then demands multi-person solutions. The most obvious being to have some governors and supers trust each other, while doing what they are specialized in.

    Of course, the supers could find ways to make sure that the governors are honest… But mind control makes people nervous.

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