Principal Jenson was best described as an unimpressive man. Shorter than most of the students in the school, including half the girls. Thinning salt and pepper hair, skinny, and always in an outfit that tried to be both professional and casual, yet failed to be either. Add into that how in those few times he actually talked to us he tried to put the ‘pal’ in ‘principal’… poorly. That made it very easy to just dismiss him as a non factor, not even important enough for the students to make fun of behind his back most days.
Which made my life more than a little awkward as I sait in this far too cold office with this man who was looking for an excuse to expel me.
The tiny man smiled amiably. “So, Zach, is it okay if I call you Zach?”
“No skin off my scr-” No! Bad Zach! “Sure, that’s fine, sir.”
“Good. I heard from Mrs. Schmidt that you ran out of class earlier today, and now many of the students think you have powers.”
I didn’t believe for a second that was all he heard, but there was no sense in denying that much. “True on both counts. I got them pretty recently, and didn’t know they would go off in the middle of class. Then I sorta panicked.”
“How recently, Zach?”
“Pretty sure it was yesterday.” That’s not lying, right?
“Yeah, my power is kinda automatic. Only kicks in when I get hurt. And now I know that counts for a simple as a dry throat. Do you know anyone who’d hurt themselves on a regular basis on the off chance that they’d miss out on knowing when they got super healing?”
He chuckled, and I couldn’t tell how much of it was an act. “You make a good point. So you decided to come to school after getting powers? Before checking to see what their limits were or if you might accidentally use them in class?”
I cringed a little. If I’d thought, like, at all, I wouldn’t have come in today. “Didn’t have much choice.” I wracked my brain for a reason why I didn’t a choice, I was too old to say I didn’t want Mom to miss work or some such. “I’m not exactly on the honor roll as it is. Believe me, if I’d known this was going to happen, I wouldn’t have come.” That’s when it dawned on me. “Are you accusing me of doing this on purpose?”
“Not at all, but since you brought it up: you do have a history of disrupting class, Zach.”
Fuck you, past me. “Okay, but nothing like this.” Not that I could have before, but let’s leave that out of the conversation. “There’s a line between ‘harmless prank’ and ‘now everyone wonders if every bad thing that happens to them in school might be my fault’. Which it isn’t, by the way, I didn’t get any of those powers. Just super healing.” And a weird sort of teleportation, and an even weirder sort of special senses, but I’m not telling you about those.
“Okay, Zach, I believe you.” He sat back in his chair, and only then did I realize that I, too, had leaned forward. “I’ll let Mrs. Schmidt know that you won’t be misbehaving in her class any longer. Please don’t make a liar out of me.”
“Yeah, I can do that. Is, umm, is that all?”
“For classes, yes. We’re not going to punish you for an accident. But, as you are a minor, we will need to report your manifestation to your mother. It’s the law, unless you can give us a reason to bring in a legal advocate. CPS and Outreach can protect you, if you’re afraid of being abused or exploited by your family.”
The fuck? “No! Nothing like that at all. It’s just. Can you at least give me a few hours, so I can let Mom know? I want it to be from me, not some secretary.”
He hesitated for a minute. “Ordinarily, I’d say no, but legally we have a window of twenty four hours in which to make contact, and we’re always so busy around here. I think we can wait until tomorrow morning to make the call. That’s the best I can do, sorry.”
I shook my head. “No, that’s fine. I can talk to her tonight.” Don’t have much choice, do I now? “It’s not like she wouldn’t have found out anyways.”
Principal Jenson smiled at me. “That’s a very mature attitude to have. But it’s ‘anyway’, not ‘anyways’. If you’re going to be a superhero, you’ll need proper diction. Now get back to class, a good education is valuable no matter what your powers might be.”
I cannot believe he said that without irony. “Uh, yes, sir.” On my way out, I wondered what part of his words were the most bullshit; somewhere in the hall, I decided it was the implication that this school’s education was ‘good’.
I got back to class before our own presentation was ready to go, but in time to watch Sarah’s presentation close up. I waited from the doorway, not wanting to interrupt. The fact that her whole topic could be summed up as ‘the world would be a happier place without superhumans to screw it over’ was not lost on me. No sense convincing her she was even more right by ‘ruining’ her project twice in one day. I waited until they were done with that before sneaking in, and failing miserably.
No one said anything as I slipped into my seat, next to the rest of my partners for the presentation. “Well, despite all my best efforts, I’m not getting expelled today. I’ll have to try harder next time.”
“Aww, do you want to leave that bad?” Cassie pouted at me. “There has to be something worth showing up for. Besides, we have our own live in superhero, now, how many schools get to say that?”
I was used to her flirting, as was pretty much everyone else in the school, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying the attention. She was freakin’ gorgeous, and she was inviting me to enjoy the sights. I never got to do it from so close or for so long, even at her most flirty before. Her eyes were the most breathtaking dark brown color, and it took a lot of effort to pull myself out of them. “Uh. Yeah, I guess you have a point.”
She smiled and turned back to watch the next presentation, leaving behind traces of whatever perfume she was using.
The next report focused on the sixties and its fads of free love and drugs as a somehow good thing. Attention was put on how the Vietnam War damaged our country’s reputation, and all the Imbued born out of East Asia during that era.
Their premise was how, thanks to the lessons finally being learned about the conditions in which Imbued are created, namely that the side that suffered the most seemed to get the most superhuman reinforcements, it would be the last major policing action the USA, or most other modern nations, ever engaged in. Some people called it the Last True War.
It was, in many ways, the opposite of Sarah’s presentation. That we Imbued made modern war too expensive to fight, so modern nations had to stop having wars.
From then on, when countries went to war, it was a shock and awe affair. Committing massive amounts of resources to destroy the enemy and then pull out before the defeated culture gained enough Imbued to turn the tides. Though, depending on who you asked, that was a bad thing more often than a good one. Creating festering pits of lawlessness and resentment that would express itself in a new type of terrorist warfare that we still hadn’t learned how to fight.
Then it was our turn, to talk about the much more cheerful Prohibition. Amber was less than pleased that we missed the Civil Rights Era, but that didn’t seem to get in the way of her wanting a good grade. Eddie’s passion for the subject turned out to be at least a little infectious, and I had fun helping put it all together. Cassie more or less nominated herself to be the one who did the actual presentation, and the rest of us didn’t care to stop her. Eddie got stage fright, and Amber was less than enthused that her pick didn’t get accepted.
As for me? Well, it was a great opportunity to get graded on standing there not doing anything for a class period. How could I turn that down?
“Our presentation is on the twenties,” Cassie said with the calm of someone who was used to being in front of people. “We can’t look at the era without mentioning Prohibition, and the birth of organized crime as we know it, but we won’t focus on it. The politics that got the Eighteenth Amendment passed had little to do with superhumans at the time, and while they were involved on both sides of the conflict, it seems that story of violence would have happened either way.”
The last part of that was not part of our original script. Maybe Cassie was winging it in response to Sarah, or Eddie penned it in while I was out. Either way, it was nice to know I had friends and allies.
“What we will examine today is one thing we can be certain would not have occurred without Imbued: the elaborate death trap. The elaborate death trap practice has been around since before superheroes and villains adopted the term. However, before the twenties it was typically done with improvised methods, such as tying victims to train tracks or trapping them with a dangerous animal. With the sudden influx of money that came with organized crime, these mechanisms would become increasingly more complex up until slowly falling out of favor in the fifties.”
That was our cue to set up the cardboard display, while Cassie turned to look at us. We had a few diagrams of some more simple trap involving a rope, a large tank of water, and sharks with lasers on their foreheads. Yes, we knew that lasers were a shit weapon in general, and even worse underwater. Realism was not our goal.
“What most people do not realize is that the death trap was not meant to kill. Quite the opposite, in fact. The traps were intentionally designed to be easily escaped from. Often in just a matter of minutes.”
We switched to the next picture, showing a diagram of the tied up people swinging on the rope until getting out from above the trap, safely landing on the ground instead.
“Many of these traps were designed to rescue the supposed victims, were they somehow unable to rescue themselves.”
Our next diagram, my personal favorite, had one of the sharks spitting the victim out onto the ground. It was all stick figures, but we managed to make it look humiliating.
Up until my fight with Kitten last night, I thought the whole practice was kinda silly. Now I knew better, having… what did Anima call it, a Surge? It was common enough to have a name to itself, and if it worked like mine did then I could see why most villains would prefer their enemies didn’t feel like they needed to use it to save themselves.
“You see, the intent of the elaborate death trap was never to kill, merely to delay the heroes so the villain could get his or her important resources to safety before at least attempting to fight the heroes. Toward the end of Prohibition they became something of a status competition between villains to see who could create the most impressive trap, all while avoiding harm to the victims. Heroes, too, participated in this competitive game, seeing if they could defeat a given villain’s traps faster than their friends managed.”
We were swapping for the next image, now.
“It is considered by many enthusiasts to be one of the great lost arts.” That line was at Eddie’s insistence. “And perhaps none exemplify this so much as the traps created by the sonic Gadgeteer known as Maestro. During his twenty year career as a supervillain, he slowly expanded upon a collection of death traps within a series of abandoned gold mines in Sacremento, California. Adding new features to deal with new heroes seeking to stop his illegal mining, bootlegging, and international smuggling operations.”
“The end result is now known as The Labyrinth, a hundred and twenty miles of death traps that still function today, decades after his death. Made a museum by his grandson, it is now open to the public. To date no hero, villain or civilian that’s accepted the challenge of the Labyrinth has ever succeeded. And to date, not a single guest has been significantly injured by any of the traps. Making it the safest amusement park in the world.”
“Maestro’s technology has been studied extensively. While, like most Gadgeteers, the principal mechanics are impossible for non-Imbued to replicate, much of his technology used mundane components. Including technology used throughout the modern world that might never have been invented if not for his efforts. It’s possible household computers would not exist today if not for his contributions to the sciences. And I don’t even want to imagine a world without the internet.”
The rest of our presentation was justifying the argument. Explaining how Maestro’s tech was the inspiration that created the micro-transistor, allowing for compact personal computers instead of room sized monsters. And giving some nod to the other tech heavy supervillains of the twenties. These days, there weren’t that many Gadgeteer villains or heroes; they tended to find that corporations and governments made better offers.
We got a few polite claps as we pulled down our display, all from the guys. It didn’t bother me, we did our presentation and would get our grade, the end.
The next group started doing their presentation, this time about the eighties and how the supers of the time started dressing and acting like rock stars, which influenced the music industry in return.
I didn’t pay much attention, far more interested in watching the clock and lamenting the fact that time has three settings. Watching the clock, having fun, and its current mode of ‘right before the deadline’.
The bell rang far, far too soon for my liking. Now I had to talk to my mother.