Lesson Plan: What is the Statesmen Program? Who is Ms. Cryptic?

 

In another time, in another place…

 

What is the Statesmen Program?

 

The students swarmed around the doors of the exhibit and talked to themselves excitedly about what they were about to see. The wing of superpowered scientists had been a chore and felt like a review of several of Mr. Siegel’s lectures on multiverse physics and cosmology. The wing of superpowered politicians was even more boring. The only costume any of them wore was a suit and they never seemed to really do anything, just talk about doing things. They passed bills and made laws same as the ones before them, same as the ones after them. They did this to make more people go to college or that to make the environment cleaner or that to put more women on superteams but they never reached a point where the next politician didn’t feel the need to promise the same things. Politics seemed like the silliest adult thing, even sillier than taxes, and their exhibit was even more boring than the wing of superpowered scientists.

 

But now they stood before the doors to the next wing as a single mass of enthusiasm, all smiles and small flailing limbs. They stood before something that finally seemed like a sensible use of superpowers. They stood before the Smithsonian’s Hall of Superheroes as the golden letters on the doors told: HALL OF SUPER-HEROES AND SUPER-HEROINES, and under it ESTABLISHED 1940 AS PART OF THE STATESMEN PROGRAM. Only a wing of pirates or mummies could hope to compete, and the hall of superheroes had its own mummies and pirates nestled among the broken doomsday weapons and gorilla skeletons.

 

And the best part was that they had the rest of the day to spend in the hall. They had hours upon hours to look at costumes, vehicles, trophies, mementos, artifacts, and even a few giant robot parts.

 

“I can’t wait I can’t wait I can’t wait!” One child said bouncing in his sneakers.

 

“I’m so happy that they finally put the John Carter exhibit back.” Another child whose reddish skin pointed toward a Barsoomian ancestry said. “I mean I can understand why they took it out but I think John Carter is still a hero. As a whole he’s a hero, even with the slavery thing. He’s Barsoom’s greatest hero.”

 

“I want to see his sword, the one forged in the heart of the Barsoomian air factory.” Another boy said. “They say it’s pink.”

 

“Pink?” A boy asked nearly cringing.

 

“Well, it’s like a pink TINGE.”

 

“It’s from the sacred color of Barsoom that radiates out of the air engine’s prisms.” The boy with Barsoomian ancestry quickly explained. “It’s not a color humans can process with their physical eyes. You need an astral body in order to properly see it.”

 

“But why pink though?”

 

“Pink is like a placeholder color the brain creates for color wavelengths the brain doesn’t know to display in your head.”

 

“What? Are you serious?”

 

“Yeah. That’s why it’s pink. I mean, why it has a pink TINGE.”

 

“Big deal.” Another boy shrugged dismissively. “I still wish they kept his exhibit out.”

 

“What?” The Barsoomian boy snapped loudly. “Why?”

 

“B-Because he’s not just a superhero. I mean by definition. I mean he was a king. And a good king, I’m sure!” The boy started to turn his own shade of red from embarrassment. He didn’t mean to imply anything political. “It’s just that he’s an adventurer. He’s like David Innes or John Greystoke. And an adventurer isn’t exactly a superhero. They should have their own exhibit.”

 

“Oh…Okay. That’s okay.” The Barsoomian boy replied sheepishly. He could tell by his peers glances that he had overstepped. “So uh…you getting yourself anything cool at the giftshop?”

 

“Naw. My parents just gave me enough money for the pizza lunch.”

 

The students were from the Statesmen Education Expansion program, or the Statesmen Edex for short. The Edex was the latest addition to one of the oldest government sponsored superhuman programs not only in the nation but in the world.

 

Some have called the Statesmen Program the most American government program ever designed. It’s origin as the brainchild of a socialist crusader, a G-man, and a self described “scientific adventurer” certainly sounded like something that could only happen in America.

 

The Statesmen Program was created back in the early 1930’s by Gold Star, J. Edgar Hoover, and Dr. Stone. Gold Star, ever the Socialist folk hero, envisioned the Statesmen as a kind of labor union for superhumans. Hoover envisioned it as a way to peacefully keep tabs on the growing number of Americans capable of fighting on equal footing with entire sections of the armed forces. Doctor Stone envisioned it as Social Registry for superhumans,  a way for the gifted and talented to pool their resources and create great things. All three agreed that the Statesmen needed to be different from the kinds of superhuman organizations developing across the ocean. The early 20th century was a time of profound and frightening change. Superhumans were appearing at a frequency never before seen and with powers that had previously belonged only to mythology. And different governments responded to the rise of superhumans in different ways. Some oppressed superhumans and drove them from their borders believing that individuals that could not be as easily controlled as normal humans by the government could not be easily served by the government, or easily coexist with the government. Some forced superhumans to join the military believing those with the potential to be living weapons should be treated like weapons. Some forced superhumans into public service believing that only force could compel the powerful to use their powers for the common welfare.

 

The Statesmen Program wasn’t like any of these proposed solutions to the superhuman “problem”. The United States with its cultural focus on individuality simply treated their superhuman citizens no differently from their normal human citizens. Superhumans were free to choose their own paths through life and the Statesmen Program capitalized on this fact of American superhuman culture. The Statesmen Program peacefully encouraged superhumans from all walks of life and all professional backgrounds to come together. It was hoped that by encouraging the free association of superhumans that ideas about the role of superpowers in American society could be exchanged and debated under a spirit of goodwill. And the hopes of its founders were not in vain. Ever since its founding in 1933 the Statesmen Program has been as much an important part of Americana as baseball and Uncle Sam-who was actually made a special Statesman of Washington DC in 1946.

 

The Statesmen were not a team of superheros, though they counted many superheros among their number. Superhumans of all professions were eligible, and this year’s selection of Statesmen was as diverse as it had always been. The selection counted bounty hunters, athletes, entertainers, scientists, police, business men, gods, and politicians. The only requirements for joining were that one be a United States citizen, be 18 or older, and be voted in by their home state.

 

Once voted in a member was a Statesman for life, although extremely popular individuals could be voted in year after year. It was considered polite form for members to decline a nomination after a couple of victories to allow new blood into the ranks. Originally elections were held every three years, but the rapidly growing population of superhumans in America decreased it to two years in 1952 and then to once every year in 1981. The fact that Statesmen have to voted in by members of their home state was a very American flourish. It was a unique combination of state election bally-hoo, P.T. Barnum sideshow exhibitionism, and Hollywood celebrity obsession. Many have criticized the Statesmen as being nothing more than a shallow popularity contest, a Miss America for superheroes. But the popular vote was written into the Statesmen charter for good reasons. The Statesmen founders wanted the common man to feel a connection to the Statesmen. They wanted the Statesmen to be truly “of the people, by the people, and for the people”. They wanted to tap America’s diverse subcultures for members and draw superhumans from Midwest farms and New England cities, from Southern bayous and Northern mountains, and from all the variance the great nation had to offer.

 

The founders didn’t want the Statesmen to become a collection of the most powerful superhumans, or the most productive superhumans, or the most popular superhumans. They wanted to harness the fickle favors of popular opinion to create a group of men and women selected for being outstanding in different ways. Some Statesmen were chosen because they represented the culture of their state, or saved their state from a great danger, or because they represented a long legacy of superhuman representatives, or just because they found them interesting.

 

The founders wanted to create a group of superhumans unlike anything the world had seen, and they succeeded. No group of superhumans on Earth were  like the Statesmen. And perhaps there was no group quite as American as the Statesmen. But there were always cries for them to do more, for them to have a goal and a purpose beyond mingling different superhumans together. One such (very loud) cry came from Pele, five-time elected statesmen and goddess of the Hawaiian Islands who started and led a movement to transform the Statesmen into a traditional superhero team. The volcano goddess wanted to limit nominations to only two categories: established superheros or superhumans who at the very least had the rank-3 Simon license required for them to assume legal authority during emergency situations and superhumans who wanted to become established superheros or licensed at rank-3. But there were other proposed programs that sought to do more with the Statesmen without changing its membership. The Statesmen Edex was one such program.

 

The Statesmen Edex, recently enacted by the newly elected Statesman Supervisor, was a program that paired off superhuman children with educators from the ranks of the Statesmen. Modern superhuman children were under great pressure to use their powers the right way. They were constantly being told by adults that they needed to use their powers for the good of all. Every adult seemed to agree on that. But very few adults seemed to agree on what exactly “use their powers for the good of all” meant. Some adults told them to become superheroes or join the military or join the hyper-exploration organization ARGO or use their powers to start a business or join a non-profit organization like The Super-Builders or to even suppress their powers and never do anything a normal child couldn’t do. It troubled children greatly that Adults gave no single answer. They only wanted to be sure of their future. And the Statesmen Edex was envisioned as a well to help children feel confident about their futures.

 

The Edex was centered on a little school purchased with the Statesmen funds in historic Joyous Harbor, Rhode Island.  The school provided both supplemental and remedial education to superhuman children and The Statesmen were tapped to give lectures and talks about themselves and the choices they’ve made throughout their lives as well as mentor certain students that expressed interest in pursuing their profession. The goal was to show the children that there were many ways a person could benefit society with his or her powers.

 

The children visiting the museum today were from the Edex. And so were their substitute teachers…

 

Who is Ms. Cryptic?

 

“Students! Students!” The Statesmen kids’ substitute teacher called running after them on three toed feet. She had mentioned that the superhero wing was next on their field trip and they left her by the exhibit on the telepathic rights movement of the 1980’s. “Remember indoor voices and behaviors!” She stood in front of the mob waving her long feathered arms hidden by large roomy sleeves. “Remember this is a museum, not a playground!”

 

Her name was Karen Christian and she was the Stateswoman of West Virginia three years running. She was a parahuman by physiology, investigator by profession, and lecturer by habit. She was born in the shape of a regular human but grew over tie into a strange, massive creature with characteristics of both owls and moths. She wore a large coat to hide her barrel shaped body covered in soft, white, moth-like fur. She wore a hood to obscure her bulky beak in shadow. Two square ears peeked out from the shadow of her hood, softly illuminated by the pale yellow light of her two enormous saucer shaped eyes. Currently her eyes were even larger than normal as she struggled to get the attention of her charges.

 

She was superhuman by virtue of her minor telepathic powers. Her telepathic powers were far from requiring her to reside in a telepath town and carry identification papers. She could only read minds with direct physical contact and intense concentration. She also possessed moderately powerful telekinetic power, but this of course was far less important to the government than her minor telepathy. The power to move objects with the mind was not as frightening as the power to make people forget objects with the mind.

 

She was an independent researcher and investigator professionally. When her body started to transform in her teenage years she researched all she could on the superpowers. She read up on the Old Light and First Race and the Time Before Time and the complicated history of how ancient beings uplifted an early form of mankind with the gift of superpowers before sealing them away from man behind cosmic walls-walls that had started to crumble during the 20th century. She read on how the superpowers possessed of instinct if not outright intelligence had steadily broken through the walls and fought their way back to the descendants of their former masters. She read about how a superpower would never directly harm the person it bonded to, and it comforted her to know that life would never be threatened by her transformation no matter how strange it become.  But she also read that superpowers never cared about any social damage done to their host. Superpowers protected their hosts from self-harm, not self-ostracization.

 

Fortunately for Karen she was naturally reclusive and shy. Her appearance gave her all the excuse she needed to isolate herself in her personal library and devote all her time to the study and research of superpowers. Experts in the field agreed that she would have become an expert herself if she had continued her voracious study. But while studying superpowers she found something that caught more of her interest: folklore, conspiracy theories, and superstition.

 

The scientifically accepted explanations for superpowers didn’t sit well with many people. And Karen could understand why. When one is suddenly transformed into a giant owl-moth like herself or a giant ape-wolf like her good friend and fellow Statesman Rougarou the standard explanation that one has been transformed by  “ancient radiation from beyond the local universe becoming attracted to your brain-patterns like a magnet to iron through convoluted cosmic processes modern science is still a little fuzzy on ” feels horribly unfulfilling. And so people speculated on other possible, more exciting and engaging reasons. Maybe superhumans were all part of a secret government conspiracy to breed a race of warriors to invade the home of the First Race? Maybe the First Race lied about wanting to keep Old Light locked away from the world, maybe it was reserve-psychology to make humans WANT to become superhumans to defy the cosmic gods that told them no? The theory went that Old Light was how the First Race reproduced. They couldn’t make more of themselves but they could transform others into beings like themselves.

 

Such theories fascinated Karen. She didn’t believe a single one, but she found every one absolutely fascinating.

 

Karen became a paranormal investigator to evaluate conspiracy theories,  Fortean rumors, and eye-witness accounts. Old Light currently effected thirty percent of the world’s population. It was now more important than ever for people to critically and rationally evaluate supernatural happenings. A town sees lights in the sky and what are they? Mischievous flying superhumans? Thought-forms seeping into our world from the 2nd Earth? Spirits and deities from the 3rd Earth on a wild hunt? Ball lightning? In the past when the quintessence borders between worlds were strong and superpowers rare people could afford to follow their untested speculations. But mistaking a god for a ghost and a flying saucer for a flying superhuman could cause harmful accidents. And this is why she traveled the highways and byways of America looking for things that go bump in the night.

 

Karen enjoyed investigative field work after years of being a social recluse so much that she founded The West Virginian Skeptics Society to expand her practice and started Strange America with Ms. Cryptic, a memeplex-cast that allowed her to share her adventurers with the wider world. Strange America was where she took her superhuman handle and where she learned how to be a lecturer. And it was why she was asked to sub for the Statesmen Edex kids’ regular teacher Mr. Siegel when he announced he wouldn’t be able to make it to the Smithsonian trip.

 

She was learning very quickly as she hurried after the children that a lecturer was not a teacher.

 

The Haunter however, was a teacher. And she was used to commanding children.