Scene 11 – October 29th
Arachne Crafts, Early Afternoon
After classes the next day, I swung by a craft store on my way home to pick up some fabric. I had already asked my friend Susan if I could borrow her red wig, and a blue bodysuit had been easy to find from a costume shop on the way back from the Compound yesterday. That left just a cut-off jacket, knee-high boot covers, all in green – the mask was in blue, but since I was replacing the lower legs of the bodysuit, I could cut them off and make the mask from them. With no classes tomorrow, I could spend the day sewing and working on the impression, and should be ready in time to wear it to classes and the party the day after.
Ready enough, at any rate. I honestly didn’t care all that much about the costume contest, but people had expectations of me at this point. I couldn’t let them down.
It was taking a while to find the right kind of fabric, though. Ideally it should be something stiff enough that it could hold its shape for the jacket, which shouldn’t be a problem, but it also had to be both shiny enough to be believable as boots and matte enough to not be ugly as a jacket. It was a tough balance to strike. In real life, of course, they were both leather, or some kind of high-tech fabric that looked like it, but I wouldn’t be able to afford a pair of knee-high leather boots and a matching jacket to dye green for a costume I would wear once.
As I browsed, pausing occasionally at one piece of fabric or another, I wasn’t paying as much attention to my surroundings as a possibly-future-hero probably should, and it was only my ESP that stopped me from bumping into another woman who had clearly been paying even less. “Oh, I’m terribly sorry,” I said automatically as I stopped.
“Oh, you’re fine,” she responded, glancing up from a shopping list, and I was surprised to recognize her.
“Professor Marigold?” I asked, and she smiled at me.
“Mx. Kaufman!” she said, sounding delighted to have run into me. “What a pleasant surprise! What brings you to my favorite craft store?”
“It was on my way home, and I needed some fabric,” I told her. It wasn’t quite on my way, but superpowers really did have a lot of mundane utility – in this case, negating the need for a bus.
“Ah yes, the costume contest,” she said with a nod. “I’ve heard about your record. Although you’re cutting it a little close, aren’t you?”
“When do I not?” I joked. “But really, I’ll be fine. It’s half the impression, anyway.”
“Can an impression really cover for a less-than-perfect costume?”
I shrugged. “It’s half-and-half, really. If you look close enough and act close enough, people’s minds fill in the details. And hey, that’s what art is all about – getting close enough that your audience will take you the rest of the way on their own. It’s more believable that way.”
The professor gave me a wistful smile. “I always wanted to be an artist myself, you know,” she mused. “I never had the talent, though. Visual art has always escaped me.”
“You have a way with words, though,” I told her. “Certainly you always keep the class enthralled. My father wouldn’t be happy with me if I didn’t count wordsmithing as a kind of art all its own.”
“How is David? I’ve heard he’s out of the hospital – is he doing better?”
“Yes, totally fine,” I assured her. “He’s been out for a week and a half or so, and is doing great.”
“I’m glad to hear it. I was a little worried.”
“I’m telling you, Dad is fine. It’s not the first time his illness has gotten the best of him and it won’t be the last. But he always beats it in the end. Always has, always will.”
“You have great confidence if your father,” she observed.
“And why shouldn’t I?” I asked. “He’s never failed me before, after all.” And he never would. I refused to even consider the possibility.
“What exactly does he have, anyway?” she asked. “I’m sorry if it’s a sensitive subject, but he’s never mentioned it to us at work, and I can’t help but be curious…”
“If he hasn’t said, I don’t think it’s my place to,” I demurred.
The professor nodded, seeming to accept my excuse. “Alright. I just want to say…” She hesitated, and I wasn’t sure why. Maybe she wasn’t sure if she should say whatever it was, or how I would take it. After a moment, though, she continued. “If you ever need anyone to talk to… I know I’m not exactly close to your father, and metahuman history isn’t exactly your thing, but you’ve been an excellent student. If you need to talk to someone about it…”
“Why are you being so…” I faltered. “I don’t know… accommodating, I guess? There’s a reason I’m not a writer…”
“What do you mean?”
“You’ve been very understanding about dad’s illness,” I said, trying to explain what I meant, “and that if I need to talk to someone about it, your door is open. You’re not… um…”
She flushed almost as red as her hair. “No no no, not at all! I just… my late husband also had a chronic illness. He passed away two years ago. I know that it’s hard, for those who love them. I suppose I just wanted to be able to be there for you, because no one was for me.”
“I’m… I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”
She shook her head. “You had no reason to, Mx. Kaufman.”
“We’re not in class, Quinn is fine.”
The professor managed a smile, although it was clear even to me that she was still embarrassed about my thankfully-incorrect assumption, and maybe a little teared-up from thoughts of her husband. “Then you should call me Joanne.”
Scene 12 – October 29th
Arachne Crafts, Continuous
“Actually, Joanne,” I said, having a sudden thought, “I think I would like to talk with you. Not about dad, but I think it’s relevant to your course.”
“Oh! Of course, what is it?” Joanne – and wasn’t it weird to be thinking of one of my professors, a woman my father’s age, by her first name – asked.
“I was talking with some friends of mine in a study group early today,” I told her, “about superheroes. Specifically, the idea that if you have superpowers, you’re morally obligated to use them for the betterment of society. We didn’t really come to a conclusion, and I admit, I came out less certain of my own opinion than I came in. I was wondering if you had any thoughts on the subject?”
We really had, too. At the end the study group, I had taken the opportunity to ask Susan if I could borrow her wig, and after explaining my costume, used it as a segue to mention an editorial I claimed to have read. From there, the natural tendency of college students to argue had taken over, and everyone in the group had to have their say.
“That’s a very interesting question,” Joanne commented, turning to run her hands through the green fabric hanging next to us. “I hope that at this point in my class you’re not surprised to learn that throughout history, different societies have had a lot of different views on the topic.”
“Please,” I said, gesturing for her to continue, “enlighten me. It is indeed an interesting question, and I don’t mind a recreational lecture every now and then.”
She smirked. “Well, back when metahumans were believed to be demigods, there initially wasn’t any moral thinking attached to how powers should be used at all – quite the opposite, in fact. They were viewed as tools, gifts from gods, and to be used as the metahuman in question saw fit. If the god disapproved, surely the powers would be retracted – so rather than having a moral obligation to use your power in a particular way, the possession of them at all was a confirmation that however you did use them was morally correct.
“Skip forward a little to when powers were supposed to be gifts from saints, and it gets a little more complicated. The god-given-and-therefore-a-sign-of-divine-favor thinking was definitely still present, but with the advent of the bible and monotheistic thinking, there were now distinct morals that God was known to enforce,” she told me. “Polytheistic religions were more flexible in that way – respect for the gods was constant, but other than that, there was at least one god who could be claimed as your patron pretty much no matter what your thinking was.
“With monotheism, God became less flexible. As a result, if you followed god, your powers were a confirmation of your righteousness. If you turned away, they were a gift from the devil, not from a saint, and proof of your wickedness instead.”
“But still keeping to the general model that it confirmed how you were already behaving, rather than suggesting a particular way to behave?” I asked.
“Exactly,” Joanne agreed – although with her having launched into a lecture that would fit right into Metahuman History, I was finding it even more difficult not to think of her as Professor Marigold. “Again, it changed with the scientific revolution. With powers now being thought to be earthly rather than heavenly, they weren’t divine confirmation of anything, good or bad.
“Instead, powers were believed to be a natural human trait – or a trait of some particular humans, at any rate. There were several notable philosophers – Vincent Sterling, Anthony Tonare, and Martin Abelard – who wrote on what exactly it should mean for society. Sterling felt that metahumans were naturally better than humans and thus qualified to rule – Tonare thought they were obviously meant to use their talents, whatever those talents were meant to be for – and Abelard suggested that, rather than being qualified to rule, they were qualified to serve. That their powers should be used for the benefit of society.”
“Those three philosophers in the mid-to-late 1500s set the model for how metahumans would fit into society for the next five centuries,” she explained. “Sterling was never very popular – with metahumans as only 15 percent of the population, I’m sure you can see why – but Tonare and Abelard’s views came into and out of prominence, even if not always attributed to them.
“So going back to your question, Quinn, the idea that metahumans are obligated to use their powers for society is a Abelish idea.”
“So the popularity of superheroes is thanks to Abelard?”
“That’s right,” the professor confirmed. “Of course, there’s a lot of Tonaric influence as well – in fact, I would say that Tonare’s ideas are waxing, and Abelard’s are waning. Superheroes are popular, but the number of metahumans who just use their powers in relatively normal jobs is far higher. There’s a reason that the DMO includes the Metahuman Entertainment Division and the Metahuman Mercantile Division, not just the Metahuman Law Enforcement Divison.”
“The MLED for the Abelish, the MED and the MMD for the Tonarics?” I asked, and she nodded. “That leaves the MCD for the… what are those who hold to Sterling’s views?”
“Just Sterlings. And yes, supervillains do tend to end up being handled by the containment division.”
“Are there any groups who still believe in the divine right arguments?”
“Far smaller, but yes. They don’t have a unifying philosopher to name themselves after, though, so they’re called metapagans.”
“Why isn’t this part of the class?”
She snorted. “There’s still a month left, Quinn. This lecture is on the syllabus for the last week of November.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Professor, you never gave us a syllabus.” Marigold – Joanne – whatever – just shrugged. “That really was interesting to learn ahead of schedule, but… it doesn’t answer what you think.”
She sighed. “Honestly, Quinn, I don’t agree with any of them. All three – Tonare, Abelard, and Sterling – believed that metahumans had a duty to use their powers. They disagreed for what purpose, but they all believed that if you had an extraordinary ability, you should use it. I don’t.” I tensed, and she quickly added, “not to say that I think metahumans shouldn’t use their powers. But I’m very much a believer in the idea that no one should feel bound to do anything they don’t want to. Society doesn’t allow for quite that level of freedom, of course, but it does mean that I think you’re not bound to use your power by some kind of moral duty.”
That fit very well with Canaveral’s beliefs, I thought. I wondered if he would consider himself a Tonaric or if, like Joanne, he would set himself apart from Tonare as well.
“You’ve given me a lot to think about, Professor – Joanne,” I corrected myself. “Fortunately,” I hefted the fabric that I had finally chosen during her lecture, “I have something to do while I think.”