Firestarter

Science Fiction

Harper never asked for his abilities. He didn’t need power, and he didn’t want responsibility. He wanted to go to school, play soccer and waste his weekends playing video games.

He wanted to be normal.

When he arrived in quarantine, I knew he was different than the others. He wasn’t one of a kind, but his kind were rare. Especially here.

Harper was a victim. The government had marked him as high-risk PDV. Predisposition to Violence. The agency didn’t see a teenager. They saw a statistic, and those statistics said seven out of ten times people with Harper’s abilities will eventually turn to a life of crime.

Everyone who came through quarantine had to sit through court mandated therapy. With a doctor’s note and power-dampening implants, most kids could be released in a few years, but using their powers again in any capacity would land them in quarantine permanently.

Kids like Harper don’t get second chances. It didn’t matter who got hurt, or why. What mattered is that someone you never met decided you were beyond saving, so they sent you away.

Harper’s first session was rocky at best. He didn’t want to share anything.

“What does my file say?”

His case file was more statistics. Two dead, seven wounded, and upwards of $750,000 in property damage to a block of townhomes on the east side of town.

There were some serious charges against him, but I wanted to hear his side of the story.

“If you wanted my side of the story, I wouldn’t be here. No one cares what really happened.”

I did. Hearing the events from a patient’s point of view—even if that view is dillusional—helps me understand motives. It helps us both begin the search for a solution to their problems.

I’d seen enough case files by this point in my career to know that something about Harper’s story was off. He attacked a neighborhood in broad daylight on a school day.

Based on the timestamps in the report, Harper would have been on his way home from school. There were six other kids on the block that would have been coming home with him, but none of them saw what happened.

The odds that a kid with no criminal record snapped at that exact moment were practically non-existent.

Every time I met with Harper, I pressed the issue. I already had my doubts about the quarantine. It might have worked, but it wasn’t right.

I’d been gathering evidence for some time. I wanted to put together a case to get kids like Harper released. They didn’t deserve this life.

When Harper finally opened up; when he told me what really happened that day, it changed everything.

“I was coming home from school when I saw the smoke. I knew the fire was bad. I knew the kids that lived there. We played baseball in the cul-de-sac at the end of the street, and my sister babysat for them.

“Mark was twelve. Annie was eight. I could hear them screaming. They were trapped, and they weren’t the only ones. Mr. and Mrs. Larson lived next door. They were like the neighborhood grandparents. Everybody loved them.

“I wasn’t gonna wait for the fire department to show up. I sure as hell wasn’t thinking about quarantine. I could help them. That’s what mattered.”

Harper ran into the fire. He didn’t stop to think about the consequences. He just took action.

“I got Mark and Annie first. Then Mr. and Mrs. Larson, and then I went through the other houses and pulled out everyone I could find.

“The fire couldn’t hurt me, so I did my best to cover everyone as we ran out, but there were flames everywhere. I know Mark and Annie got burned, but I did the best I could.

“The fire department showed up before I was done. So did the cops. They didn’t see how the fire started. All they saw was a kid controlling it.

“Mr. Larson—who could barely stand on his own—grabbed my arm and stood between me and the officers. Told them I saved his life. Everyone there said I was a hero, but I knew they had to take me in, because my powers are on the black list.”

After speaking with all the witnesses, and confirming that Harper was, indeed, on the bus when the fire started, the sheriff decided to turn a blind eye. They were going to let Harper walk.

Before he could leave, the agency stepped in. They carted him off to a federal court and made a spectacle of the trial. None of the witnesses took the stand.

A doctor passed pictures of the burns that Mark and Annie suffered. A coroner reported that the Larson’s died from smoke inhalation two days after the incident, and a judge threw the book at an innocent kid because a fire marshal said it was possible that Harper made the fire worse.

I tracked down every person who was there that day. I spoke to every one of them personally, and every one of them told the same story.

Harper was a hero. No one asked them to testify at his trial. Mark and Annie’s parents weren’t even allowed in the court room. The worst part is, the agency didn’t lie about what happened.

They never said Harper started the fire. They called it “reckless abuse of power.” Harper was sent to quarantine for negligence.

He didnt have any training, and running into a fire the way he did might do more harm than good. They stretched the truth, and they crucified him.

The Harper Act is coming to a vote next week. If it passes, the power ban will be lifted. Harper and every other kid sent to quarantine on a technicality will be released.

We can’t give back the time that was taken away, but we can give them a second chance. We have an opportunity to make this right. Don’t waste it.

There's more where that came from!

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