Blades & Barriers: Chapter 74

                In a lot of ways, traveling in United Avalon didn’t feel all that different from being home. It was just being surrounded by people who were walking, chatting, getting through their day. Sure, the signs looked different and everything important was printed if half-a-dozen languages, but overall it was just like taking a shuttle from anywhere else. Except for the times it wasn’t.

                During their time riding from the hotel to the museum, the interns saw a man fly overhead, two women easily hauling massive hunks of rubble away from a construction site, and a group of children where one kept teleporting around in a game of tag. Any of these things were sights they could have seen back home, yet they rarely ever did. Outside of the HCP, being different was dangerous. Not every human took well to the idea that their neighbor could see through the walls, or that their new coworker was worlds better at the job by twist of genetics. The end result was that, at least publicly, people tended to only use their abilities for a purpose, never just for fun. Supers were fine so long as they were benefitting or entertaining humanity, but not everyone knew how to deal with them outside that context.

                The group disembarked the shuttle outside the museum, a surprisingly big structure with giant glass windows running all along the front. This allowed them to see inside to the lobby, where a few people were milling about, some buying tickets while others looked at the large murals adorning the lobby walls.

                “Worth our time?” Brett asked.

                DV shook his head. “Probably not. Human-friendly, which means the information here is going to be tightly controlled. It might be worth swinging through after the memorial though, just for the sake of context. It’s better to know the story they’re telling humans, in case we have to argue against it down the line. For now, we just focus on the truth. Hopefully that’s what we’ll find at the Super-only section, but stay skeptical. Trust nothing this place tells you.”

                With one glance at his map, DV pointed the way down a nearby walking trail and set off. It was a couple of miles to reach the memorial, a distance that would have been annoying to most but for trained Heroes may as well have been across the street. The only reason they didn’t jog there was to avoid drawing attention. For the most part, the walk was simple and serene, passing a few ponds and lots of trees as they made their trek. Roughly a half-mile from the goal, however, they reached a large metal fence with a guard station set in the middle of the path. There was a burly man already standing outside it, clearly waiting for them. Apparently United Avalon took the human-free zones quite seriously.

                One by one, the guard looked over their paperwork, nodding each person through. He squinted a tad longer at DV’s temporary citizenship, enough to make the others wonder how this would go down, before finally admitting him through as well. They were well-past the guard station before anyone spoke again, and it was Justin who broke the silence.

                “You know, for a minute there I was almost confused. One guy, checking our papers. How does he know we aren’t creating illusions, messing with his mind, or using some other ability? There are so many powers to beat that checkpoint. So then I figured, he must be a neutralizer, but that’s crazy. I don’t care how many Supers this place has, there’s no way they’d put someone that rare on guard duty. Then, I looked at the fence, and it hit me: the guard doesn’t care if we use abilities to sneak past. That fence wouldn’t be a problem for loads of Supers, and that’s the whole point. It’s just meant to keep humans out; using powers to get through proves we have a right to be there.”

                “One of the upsides of using power as a measurement of worth, it’s much easier to vet and test,” DV concurred. “Of course, there are plenty of other issues from relying that sort of metric. Dividing a population based on raw ability devalues things like kindness, humanity, and cooperation. You become solely what you can do, rather than what you contribute to society as a smaller part of the whole. That’s why most Super-run nations fall apart. They all slip into the same trap of equating power with value, and the strongest Super isn’t always the one best qualified to lead.”

                The dead silence that greeted his words nearly bowled him over; all three interns were staring at DV like he’d lit himself on fire. Eventually, Brett finally put words to their faces, although his voice was strained and uncertain. “Isn’t… isn’t United Avalon the first Super-run nation?”

                “Officially, yes, but that only means they’re the first ones to make it this far. Did you really think that out of all the world, no one else had tried to form a nation of people with powers? It seems like a great idea, from the outside.  Of course, that ignores the fact that at our core Supers are still humans, with all the pettiness, selfishness, and short-sightedness that comes along with that. And nations need more than ultra-powerful citizens to function. People who think themselves above the common rabble don’t usually want to haul garbage for a living, but that’s still a vital job that has to get done, one of many that don’t carry enough ‘glory’ for the sorts that form those kind of countries. United Avalon left room for humanity, painting their separation as a concern of safety instead of one of superiority, and that’s why they’ve managed to find a semblance of stability. The rest were uprisings more than countries.”

                Angela, who had been uncharacteristically quiet during the shuttle ride, pointed to a small building just visible over the next hill. “If there’s any chance of finding out what makes this country different, I’d say that place is going to be one of our better shots. There’s bound to be something worth seeing if they don’t want humans to view it.”

                “Maybe, maybe not,” DV said. “Remember, United Avalon didn’t form as a country with the goal of making a homeland for Supers. It came from the crucible of rebellion, fighting off tyrants who viewed them as tools, rather than people. What we find in there might shine a light on the heart of this country, but it’s also entirely possible we’re about to see a reminder. Something kept for the sake of this nation’s Supers, a memory locked away to make sure they never forget what humans are capable of. Remember, this is a memorial, and very rarely are such things built for cheerful reasons.”

                “It sounds like you’re not even sure we’ll find anything valuable here.” Justin didn’t seem as though he was disagreeing with the assessment, more like he was simply curious to understand the motivation. Whether it was genuine or not was irrelevant, DV was just glad to see the kid using the right moves to get information he wanted.

                “There’s a very good chance all we’ll get from this is an afternoon of seeing and knowing things we might wish we didn’t. But we have to go anyway, because it’s not about playing the odds. If there’s even the slightest chance we’ll learn something useful, we have to take it. Real information isn’t handed out, you have to dig, fight, and claw your way to get it. Even on longshots, maybe especially on longshots. So no matter what we find in there, eyes open and heads up. You never know what detail may play a crucial role down the line. Don’t you dare miss it.”

                No one said much else for the rest of the walk, their minds were already wondering what they would find inside that building.