“How do we respond?” asked President Robins tiredly. She had spent the last forty hours in crisis mode, dispatching and organizing all the resources at her disposal to try and mitigate the incomprehensible amount of damage that had been done to Sunlight City. The ripples of the event were already spreading far past the devastating toll it had on human life.
Stock markets were collapsing and people were afraid to go to work. Robins had done everything she could to reassure her populace that this was a one-time accident and not the start of a series of terrorist attacks. If they didn’t restore normalcy to the remainder of the country then the economic devastation could ultimately leave millions more dead from less obvious causes like disruption to health care and food production.
Many were praising her administrative efforts in the face of the crisis, but almost as many were blaming her administration’s lenient policy towards those with abilities. There had been riots and demonstrations across the nation, and more than a few murders of people thought to possess powers. Though she wanted nothing more than to sleep, she knew that the time had come to hammer out a firmer stance on the issue to try and stem the blood flow.
“We need to show that we are taking the threat seriously. I propose we suspend the right to due process and detain anyone known or believed to have powers until we can institute a process of assessing threat levels for those with abilities,” said General Hargrave. Exclamations of surprise buzzed around the room. There were no doubt supporters of the idea among the varying advisors and cabinet members present at the meeting. But none of them expected Dustin Hargrave to make the suggestion.
Dustin Hargrave was young for a general. He had blue eyes, short-cropped blond hair and a strong jaw line. When he was a young soldier he distinguished himself in battle when his unit came under attack during a skirmish with their neighboring country Destri. When several of his fellow soldiers were injured, he suddenly found himself able to calculate the angle of projectiles in a way he couldn’t explain. He proceeded to ricochet bullets around the enemy’s cover, killing over a dozen of them and saving his squad.
It wasn’t until many years later that people realized he was one of the first of those gaining abilities. By then he had used his new calculation abilities in conjunction with his naturally high intelligence to quickly climb the chain of command.
“Are you volunteering to go first?” asked Councilor Meriden dryly. Meredith Meriden had spent nearly a decade fighting to make sure the rights of those she called The Gifted stayed the same as anyone else’s. Her grandparents were victims of the Gemini Genocide in the thirties and she made it her personal mission to make sure the sorts of actions leading up to that tragedy were not repeated. But none of the Gemini people could destroy a country. Now we live in a world where we have to wonder if our neighbors are nukes. Would taking precautions really make us the same as the Arians?
“Yes, I am. It would not be right for me, or anyone else, to get special treatment. I have full confidence that a properly implemented program would result in the vast majority of those with abilities being quickly released. But some may need to be detained longer until such as time as we can ensure they are not a threat to society. We would be far from the first to implement such a program. Even before this incident, there were thirty countries that made registration and review a public policy and there have already been another twenty to do so in the last day and a half as an emergency measure. Furthermore, rapid implementation would protect those with abilities from the mobs running around right now until tempers cool.”
Robins wondered if he was right. She had resisted pressure for registration for as long as she’d been in office, but in this crisis situation it might not be a bad idea. At the least it would be a good idea to create safe havens the gifted could go to voluntarily to ride out the negative sentiment.
“Protect people with powers from the mobs or protect the mobs from them?” asked Admiral Tyland. “I warned you something like this might happen, Mrs. President.”
“I’m aware. You’ve been asking for harsher policies ever since that sailor accidentally left one of your ships stranded on an iceberg in the middle of the Boiling Sea. But the iceberg melted quickly and no one was harmed.” She wondered which was worse though, backtracking on her position of maintaining civil liberties for all of her citizens or not being perceived as doing enough to protect those citizens. “It seems like a slippery slope to start depriving people of fundamental rights for things that might happen.”
“That will happen,” Tyland insisted. “Even ignoring isolated incidents, there is little question that some countries have begun militarizing these aberrations. They see them for the living weapons that they are and if we don’t start doing the same then we are going to lose the new arms race without even starting it. Our enemies will be able to attack us with impunity in ways we can scarcely even imagine!”
The man was in his late sixties, but sat with a straight back and an alert look on his face despite not having slept any more than Robins had. She wondered if she hid exhaustion half as well as Tyland did. Though it was rare for her to indulge in reading celebrity fashion magazines, the occasional glance made her aware that public perception was her grey hair was a regal shade that matched her eyes. But she had the sneaking suspicion that right now it just made her look old, whereas Tyland’s light brown helped shave at least ten years off his appearance.
It occurred to Robins that despite the urgency of the matter, they were a bunch of tired old folks trying to decide what to do with a subset of the population made up mostly of a younger generation. A generation that helped vote me into office. This seems like a lose-lose situation.
“Your points have been noted before, but the issue remains that forcing people into service would be just as big a betrayal of the values our nation has always stood for as locking them up without them having committed any crimes. Does anyone have any less drastic suggestions?”
The room was supposed to be full of brilliant strategists, yet all she heard were crickets. The fact was this matter had been discussed half to death before with few options presented that she viewed as viable. Those who hoped the catastrophe might have changed her stance on restraint or registration were likely disappointed, but knew arguing further with her about it wouldn’t get them anywhere. Still, something must be done.
“May I speak, Ma’am President?” a voice whispered softly into her ear. It was one she heard often, though much less so in meetings such as this one. Her chief assistant rarely viewed it as being his place to advise on the formation of policy.
She glanced over her shoulder at Raphael Klein. He was in his late twenties, wearing a crown of curly black hair with brown skin and piercing green eyes. Robins knew that unlike Tyland’s admirably faked alertness, the bright expression on Raphael’s face was genuine. He was as relaxed and fresh as if he’d just woken up from a great night’s sleep. But Robins knew that last time Raphael got any sleep was over a decade before.
Younger than General Hargrave by a fair bit, Raphael had still been part of the first major outbreak of gifted individuals. Robins remembered that time, when thousands of children and young adults began dying mysteriously and dozens started exhibiting unexplainable behavior. In Raphael’s case, it was a complete lack of need for sleep. At first, his parents had been concerned when he stopped sleeping. They thought it was insomnia and would lead to the many problems prolonged sleep deprivation should cause. But after going through several doctors and therapists, it became clear that Raphael’s wakefulness wasn’t the product of a normal condition.
Raphael suffered no ill effects. In fact, his memory improved to become nearly photographic and he never became the least bit fatigued. He wasn’t naturally a genius like General Hargrave, but he was still fairly bright and, more importantly, he was diligent and conscientious. These qualities combined with his new memory and greater productive time allowed him to become exceedingly well educated. It also allowed him to be by far the most industrious assistant Robins had ever known. His attention to detail was second to none and he could keep working on tasks indefinitely until they were accomplished.
Robins had considered excusing him from sitting in on the meeting considering the outcome might directly impact him. But she realized Raphael might perceive it as a slight he didn’t deserve. He had always been loyal and dutiful and she had no reason to think he wouldn’t behave himself no matter how heated things got. So she’d let him attend as he often did and now was glad to see someone might actually have an idea to contribute.
“Yes, please do. I would be interested to hear a fresh perspective. Especially from someone who stands to be affected by the decisions we make here today.”
“Thank you Ma’am President,” Raphael said, raising his voice. “I think Admirable Tyland and General Hargrave make good points. However, as has been pointed out, forcing our citizens to register with or serve our government in order to mitigate possible threats would be a violation of everything our government was made to stand for. But why should force be necessary? We are the wealthiest nation that has ever graced this planet.
“I confess that I do not know the extent to which the destruction wrought in Sunlight City will ultimately affect our wealth. I can tell you current damage estimates as of the last time I checked, but I cannot predict into the future. Perhaps if General Hargrave took a look at them his gift would provide such answers. However, presuming we maintain even close to the number of resources we had before the incident, we should instead consider trying a carrot approach.
“We want those with abilities to use them for the benefit of our nation, so why not offer rewards for doing so? Offer money to voluntarily register. And based on the powers of those who come forward, offer to hire them in appropriate positions. We have long strived to be a meritocracy in which individuals end up in the jobs they would perform well in. Why should this be any different? It has worked with the good General and myself, so why can’t it work with others? There will no doubt be those who fall through the cracks, but the ones who would not voluntarily tell us they have powers or work for us are the ones who would also most likely fight us if we tried to force them. It doesn’t seem to me that it is in anyone’s interests to have a rebellion starting on our hands.”
Robins smiled. “Okay… now we’re getting somewhere.”