The last two hours have been a parade of humiliating, surprising, and frightening statistics. Charts and graphs blared via projection off the antiseptically white walls of the room behind a succession of anonymous presenters. The man now taking the podium to speak is the first one Kat recognizes. Link, of the American super-team. No, former team, she corrects herself. That’s what we’re talking about today.
The others have needed a microphone, and use a small handheld device to advance the slides shown on the projector. Link doesn’t bother with these things. The machinery obeys his will.
“This morning, we’ve seen… ah, I’m sorry. Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Good afternoon, I’m sorry. This morning, we saw a number of statistics. Criminal figures, economic and political trends, and so on. I would like to present a capsule summary of this information, which leads into the topic of my discussion. You will be hearing information you already know. It is my sincere hope that you are able to grasp it from a new perspective. This perspective is what I hope to impart.”
He has a languid way of speaking, Kat observes. Calming. She settles in, reaches for her cold coffee, and listens.
“Since 1962, the world has widely known of the existence of superhumans. People like myself. What you saw was that reliable evidence of superhuman activity extends as far back as 1910, with anecdotal evidence or supposition going further. What we also know is that after 1962 and Apollo, superhumans became much more widespread. This is attributed to a number of factors. Higher reproductive rates, a recognition of superhuman traits as a distinct classification, and uh… eleven thirty, eleven thirty… yes, thank you, mutagenic effects from the use of atomic power or similar artifacts of modern industry.”
“We fear what we cannot control. We cannot control what we do not understand. Thus this conference, which seeks to disseminate knowledge about the superhuman phenomenon. What I want to make each of you understand today, ladies and gentlemen, is that this cuts both ways. I’m sorry if this term offends anyone, but - mundanes. You mundanes don’t understand supers. And I am sorry to inform you that it is increasingly clear that we supers do not understand you.”
There’s some whispering, which Link allows to run its course. Ekaterina is sitting forward intently. What does he think he’s saying?
Pie charts begin appearing on the projector. Link gestures behind him. “Economics. What you see here is the typical distribution of income to expenses such as rent, food, utilities, and the like for a family of four. Here, the same charts for single individuals in three different economic strata. This is American data, to be clear. Here, a similar but more limited view of a typical German household.”
The next slide is different. Shockingly so. “And here is the data for members of California’s Metahuman Task Force,” Link explains calmly. “Look at what is missing. Electricity use is minimal. A bare minimum of utilities. Little to no food budget. No medical expenses whatsoever. Just a roof over one’s head, with the rest going to entertainment or investments. Members of the MTF with mundane partners, wives, children, and so forth look more conventional.”
“What does this mean? A superhuman has fewer physical needs than a normal. He doesn’t get sick. I’m positive that some of you in this room think that I say this to provoke envy. I don’t. The lesson here is that a super will forget what these things mean. He will not understand when someone is sick, because he is not. He will not understand hunger if he doesn’t feel it. He may remember these sensations from before his progression to Stage Three or higher, but those memories will fade. Empathy is based on a shared framework of experience. A super who doesn’t understand mundanes will simply stop knowing how to care about them.”
More charts. “Law enforcement. Many of you will remember the push for decriminalization of marijuana and other drugs. In 1990, 24% of the total number of persons under control of the U.S. corrections system were there for drug-related offenses. An executive order was signed, directing law enforcement to discontinue enforcement of anti-drug laws for marijuana. Here - from 1990 to 2010, the graph steadily goes down. The number you see here taking its place is number of superhumans under U.S. corrections control.”
“Violent or petty crimes committed by superhumans versus the same data on mundanes. Rates of recidivism. Ladies and gentlemen, your enforcement mechanisms for superhumans are based on the idea that punishment will condition a prisoner to adopt better behavior. For superhumans, the pattern is clear. It does not. The most you can do is to stop them from freely enjoying themselves for awhile, which as a deterrent is effective against small children and few others.”
“Let me tell you why TRS adopted the name Persona.”
“We all wear masks, literal and metaphorical alike. Supers and mundanes alike. We wear the mask of concerned citizen when you participate in society. The mask of family member. The mask of professional. The gamut of the Jungian archetypes and beyond. But why?”
“We hide our feelings away, because we are ashamed of them or because they would hinder what we wish to accomplish. Sometimes for the good of those around us, or the good of society. Sometimes because social pressure forces us into a role. Sometimes we fear the thoughts and feelings of others, and we invest them with a mask for the sake of sanity.”
“Superhumans have their own masks. The hero and villain and monster masks, imposed on us by a legacy of mythology and religion and popular narrative. Masks forced onto us by the jealous or the fearful. Masks we adopt of our own accord. What you must understand, ladies and gentlemen, is that the face behind the mask is increasingly inhuman. Removed from the concerns of mundane life, and without those same social pressures, the superhumans you know are becoming something other than what they were born and raised to be.”
“TRS recognized that the American All-Stars’ replacements would be wearing such masks, and sought to explicitly manage the process.”
“What I urge you all today is this: find a way to anchor superhumans into the mundane world. Something to love. Something to fight for. A shared experience. Without this, you face the problem of dealing with an increasingly inhuman power. If supers become an ‘in group’ to themselves, then mundanes risk becoming the ‘out group’. Us vs. them. Ladies and gentlemen, if that division escalated into a conflict, I know where I’d bet.”