High school conference: "What is heroism?"




The scene: A packed auditorium in Jefferson High, in the Kings Row neighborhood of Paragon city. High school students and some parents are discussing loudly amongst themselves. An adult comes unto the stage and the kids hush up almost immediatly.

"Welcome students and parents. I am principal Moss, and it makes me very happy that so many of you have chosen to come to this talk on 'What is Heroism?' Our first panelist is a Social Studies student at Paragon University. His name is Daniel Steele. But some of you may better know him under his street name, The Penitent."

Some students start applauding and hollering at this point.

"Well since you gave him such a nice reception I won't hold him off much longer. They're all yours Daniel."

"Thank you principal Moss. Hello kids and adults. It is my privilege today to be present here to talk about my experiences as a teenager and a superpowered law enforcer. Some of you may know me. I came to this very school and lived in this very neighborhood. I'd bet most of you don't have very good memories of me. Some of you may even be quite surprised at how I turned out. To be fair, I am myself quite surprised at how I turned out...

See, as many of you, I wasn't born into much privilege. My father was often in-between jobs. My mother would support us with a minimum wage gig in some textile factory. Neither would have much time left to take care of me. I couldn't often afford the newest fashionable clothes, or the best videogames, like some of my fellow students. I would dress up in old hand-me-downs and get laughed at and bullied by class mates. I was a pretty angry kid. I made friends with some of the other social outcasts in our school.

Some of my friends started hanging around older kids who were bad influences on them, and myself. They were members of a small gang called the 'Nordic Aryan Fraternity'. We started to be included more and more into the workings of the gang. They started feeling like a second family. We would distribute NAF material and recruit other kids. We'd start to listen to racist rock groups and get ourselves 'cool' tattoos."

The Penitent lifts his right shirt sleeves, revealing a swastika with the words "Never forget: Anyone can become a monster" inscribed around it.

"Yeah I never got it erased, because it would have meant trying to erase that past from my memory. I added to it instead. Added understanding. Added experience. Added... betrayal.

See, some of you may have friends who are part of the Skulls or the Hellions, or one of the other major gangs of Paragon City. Some of you may have felt the pressure to join. Some of you may see them as a family. You think that the gang is all about your personal protection, that they'll take care of you. What you don't know is that, in reality, the gang is all about what you can do for the gang, not what the gang can do for you. If you're not useful anymore, they'll drop you. That's as far as their loyalty go.

The NAF was getting big and we got the attention of a paramilitary group called the 5th Column. They courted some of our leaders and offered them positions in the Column, as well as military training. We all thought the racial war would be coming soon, and we had already gotten into fights with rival minority gangs, so we were very interested in getting trained in weapons and hand to hand combat.

One of our first assignments to prove our loyalty to the Column was to attack a small shop in High Garment Works owned by second generation Chinese immigrants. I thought we were going to do some property damage and scare the locals. What I didn't know was that the plan was to shoot to kill.

My friend Vinny got a gun out and put it on the temple of the owner's teenage girl. I don't know what happened then inside of me. I just felt it. This was wrong. This was going farther than I wanted. I could spew racial war rhetoric, but when it came to killing a girl in cold blood I just couldn't do it. I wrestled Vinny for the gun. I knocked him out. The police arrived and took me and Vinny to jail. Because I testified against Vinny and the higher ups who had sent us to the store for this mission, I got a reduced sentence.

I angered somebody in the Column big time with my actions, I guess. When I finally got out, some of my old 'friends' were waiting for me. I got beat up pretty badly. But the worst was to come.

The 5th Column has some sort of supersoldier project going. I was to become their guinea pig. I don't have a lot of data about what they subjected me to, but I have been disfigured by the process. These horns you see are not part of my costume, they're permanent addition to my body. I also seem to have increased strenght and agility, as well as ways to absorb my enemies' strenght to increase my own.

I don't remember much about my escape. I know that some fellow superheroes were responsible for demolishing the lab, though they apparently left me for dead. It seems most of the guinea pigs did not survive the process, and a lot of others weren't granted any powers. What I fear is that in some way I was a breakthrough in this project, and that perhaps more were created. I have no idea.

I felt betrayed of course, but in some odd way I felt released also. In prison I had continued my education and had mostly renounced my old neo-nazi ways. When I had gotten out of jail I wanted to go back to school and maybe major in social work, and help other troubled teenagers into not making the same mistakes I did. These new powers, however, opened new ways in which I could protect this city from crime.

The people at Freedom Corps. were very supportive and helped me adjust to this life. I have been involved in numerous investigations regarding unethical experiments upon humans and animals, as well as strange technological threats like the clockworks. I am also on the forefront in the fight against the Fifth Column. As you know, the FBI has started to investigate the Fifth Column in association with superheroes like myself in order to dismantle that
organisation because of its illegal actions.

So what am I here to teach you? I guess I am here to teach you that we all make mistakes. And that heroism is all about making amends for these mistakes, and to try to surpass them. Heroism isn't all about superpowers. You do not need to poison your body with Superadyne or Rage to become a hero. You do not need to have superpowers to be a hero. All you need is to believe in yourself and to have the courage of your convictions. Some of you will become cops, others firefighters, teachers, politicians, lawyers, doctors, social workers. But all of you have the potential to be heroes.

Thank you."