A couple walked into the local ice cream shop with all the gallant politeness and tentative newness of two people who have only recently discovered each other and liked what they found. Stepping into line, the college age are pair found themselves in front of a full length mirror mounted on the wall. He slowly reached up and pulled off her glasses, silently congratulating himself for his boldness.
"You look better without them," he said with what he hoped was a charming smile. "and I think glasses are a crutch, anyway. Anybody can have vision as good as mine if they concentrate."
"You sound so certain," she said with a touch of awe. "Like there is no room in the universe for you to be wrong."
"It's easy when you are right," he said with a shrug. "Anybody can be right once in a blue moon. Look in the mirror and see if you can make the image clear up. Really concentrate."
She sighed and tried as he instructed, and much to her surprise, it worked. For the first time in her life she could see clearly without glasses. She took in the new feeling, but then slowly the smile of wonder was replaced with a small frown.
"What's wrong?" hHe asked.
"My eyes were never brown before," she said, then looked away from the mirror into his eyes. "Not just brown, but exactly the same shade of brown as your eyes."
As his confidence changed to confusion, her vision slowly blurred ... and no amount of concentration on her part brought it back. She bolted out of the ice cream shop, running away with her glasses and his hopes in both hands. Uncertain what to do, he didn't chase after her.
"If you are only right once in a blue moon, you must not like yourself very much," a bright eyed little girl standing nearby in the same line said to the confused man.
The young man blinked in surprise at the little girl's unexpected and disturbingly insightful question, rubbed the back of his neck nervously and, instead of replying directly, asked the girl's mother, "Is she psychic?"
The mother laughed and said, "No, she's six."
"You know, they do exist." the man said with a small smile.
"Not just psychics, superpowers."
"What? People who fly and run around in tights?"
"People who do all kinds of unusual things," he replied, but his expression was thoughtful instead of confident. "The tights are optional."
"If a single common denominator can be found between all of the 'empowered', it is that their powers are largely psychosomatic" the scientist said, while successfully steeling himself to not fidget under the senator's stormy stare. "Which is to say the powers are not imaginary, but that in almost all cases the empowered subject's belief that they have powers seems to have proceeded the power's manifestation, and those same manifestations seem to disappear when those beliefs are successfully challenged."
Having nothing more to say, the scientist simply shut up and let the senator process that very short summary.
The senator continued frowning at the scientist. He didn't like naturally silent people: he found them to be cocky and overconfident. He preferred inspiring awed nervous babbling in the people who visited him. But after that short bit of introspection, he focused on the scientist's words instead of his opinion of the man.
"Are you saying that if we start some kind of education program to convince these people that they aren't special, it will come true?" the senator finally asked.
The scientist nodded and replied, "In a nutshell, Senator, yes. Although I haven't found any studies to confirm this, certain features of the modern public school system lead me to conjecture that somebody in the past has already figured this out and instituted countermeasures."
"You aren't saying if we ignore it and outlaw homeschooling, the problem will go away?"
"No, Senator. We also need to undermine the confidence of those who are already manifesting abilities. Those people who are already successfully manifesting abilities are not only inspiring others, but they are bolstering their own confidence. However, I'm not sure how someone would do that. You can't just force people to conform."
"Of course not," the senator replied, a trifle too quickly.
Herc Thompson excelled at everything: one of those rare people that was just a touch stronger, a touch faster, and a touch better looking than everyone he met in his entire life. In addition to his physical abilities, which only improved whenever he was paired with somebody who came close to matching his impressive abilities, he also had an infectious confidence that made college athletic recruiters salivate. Homeschooled on a farm for the bulk of his life, he was discovered by a college recruiter and almost immediately given an athletic scholarship. Herc's only condition to attending college was that his little brother also be given a matching scholarship to the same school.
Jason Thompson was almost exactly a year younger than his nineteen year old brother. And where Herc Thompson was exceptional, Jason Thompson was, in the competitive arena of college sports, at best barely average. Jason tried hard, but he simply didn't rise to challenges the way his brother did. Almost as soon as the pair arrived at Indiana University, the coach changed Jason's school schedule to keep the pair apart, judging (correctly) that Herc would perform better without his brother present.
However, despite their varied daytime schedules, the brothers roomed together and Jason returned from the ice cream shop to find Herc waiting for him.
"I'm nothing special. Anybody can do everything I can do," Jason asked his brother as soon as the bigger man looked up. "Right?"
Normally Herc would have simply agreed, but something in the frustration in his little brother's face made him pause and say instead, "You're the guy getting a B in Calculus. I get a B only right after you help me. The rest of the time I feel like I'm struggling to pass."
Jason frowned deeper, and Herc's easy smile faltered when his attempt to cheer up his little brother failed.
Seeing his own worry starting to be reflected on Herc's face, Jason summoned a fake smile and said, "Is this a back-handed way of asking me to help you study?" trying to change the subject away from disturbing thoughts for the both of them.
"If you can fit it in right before the test, I'd appreciate it," Herc replied, happy to see his brother's mood shifting. "I don't know why everything makes sense only five minutes after you start explaining it, but I eventually lose it again and I need every edge I can get if I want to keep my scholarship."
The thoughtful expression reappeared on Jason's face, but he said, "Yeah, I think I can do that."
Whatever magic Jason had at his command, he couldn't summon it when he was thinking about it. The next day, for the first time, Herc got a D on a college test. Undaunted by his intellectual failing, Herc scored six touchdowns in the football game the following weekend and got his picture on the cover of Sports Illustrated when photographed straight-arming a tackle twice his weight and eight inches taller.
Senator Russ Tinemman steepled his fingers after Professor Smith left. Something the scientist had said just didn't add up, and the senator was not the kind of man to blindly follow anyone's advice. If superpowers were just a matter of belief, why didn't everyone with an ego have them? Finally, the senator had to conclude that Professor Smith was simply operating too far outside of his field. He reached for his phone and called his secretary.
"Jennifer," he said, "find me the country's top authority on narcissism."