Legion of Lawndale Heroes
Written by Brother Grimace
Legion of Lawndale Heroes created by James Bowman
11.4 – 'In The Air Tonight'
Charles seemed to have an almost unmatched ability to frustrate his father – the way he was fixated upon the fairer sex to almost the point of obsession, and never seemed able to be able to date was a great example. (This was, of course, before he joined the Legion and had the notorious 'warning' from Daria Morgendorffer herself. Even after they became friendly, Charles admitted that he'd always felt a touch on guard whenever he was around her.) Even worse – after almost a year of Legion training and the tutelage of Armalin (which the older Ruttheimer initially resented deeply) that allowed Charles to shape himself both physically and mentally into an object of intense female interest, it seemed as if Charles lost his interest in women.
That wasn't the case, as later stories in this book will relate. Charles was not destined to go to his grave without knowing female companionship - far from it, especially considering the infamous Porterhouse Challenge incident, which took place during (and far after) the Vanity Fair party after the Academy Awards ceremony that year. It wasn't that 'he'd learned respect for women', either (although being around his fellow Legionnaires of the opposite sex certainly had calmed him down somewhat) or that he felt that the way women were throwing themselves at him and competing for his attention was a big scam at his expense. At this time, Charles had discovered the allure of flight – and no woman could compete.
He had his eye on the Prize – and it wasn't a trophy wife, either. Charles was now in a position of wealth, respect, with a physical nature worthy of notice, and it was now that he seemed to abandon his pursuit.
Over the coming years, Charles Ruttheimer II would continue to be frustrated beyond words by his son.
Charles, Version Two, by Tricia Gupty
Now, this – is – FLYING...
Charles looked over at the airspeed indicator: Mach 6.9 – almost 5,000 mph. Only shuttles, ballistic missiles and the X-15 ever flew this fast, along with the early space rockets, he thought, looking out at the curvature of the Earth.
"How long until we get there?"
"Ten minutes," the pilot said, turning to Armalin, who was strapped in at the co-pilot's position. "Take the plane, Colonel?"
"I'll fly her back," Armalin replied, looking at the expression on Charles' face. "First time in a real plane, Ruttheimer?"
"This- this is..."
"I know," Armalin smiled. "I thought my first catapult launch off Emancipator was something. Global Rapid Infantry Deployment, Mark II – the Gridrunner, they call her. Quest Corporation ultratech long-distance, hypersonic recon and transport craft; able to place or retrieve troops anywhere on the planet within ninety minutes. Top rated speed – Mach 10, with V/STOL capability. Built as the Quest Corporation's response to NASA's 'Hyper-X' program."
"NASA didn't want it? Or the Air Force or Marines?"
"People have egos," Armalin said simply. "Department of Defense didn't want it, either – to them, no ground troops are worth the one billion dollars upwards each of these babies cost. The Mark II's can carry one hundred troops and their equipment, or forty and a support vehicle – she's got a special interior modular design that allows the ground crews to swap out interior sections according to specific mission profiles."
"These things cost the same as a nuclear submarine?"
"Easily. The avionics alone run something along the lines of a third of a billion – the onboard computer is liquid-based and hardened against outside interference, EMP's; it can effectively act as an autopilot and complete a flight without a pilot. All she needs is someone to sit in the pilot's seat and give her instructions – she'll take off, do mid-air course corrections, land... hell, she's capable of fighting a decent air-to-air, but her best defense is to run. There's only four things out there that can knock a Gridrunner moving at full speed down – another Gridrunner, a ballistic missile, an orbital weapon or a Class 5 metahuman with a serious grudge against whomever's inside. " You should see the Mark III's - the heavy transports, that can carry two hundred men and a couple of support vehicles...
He turned to face Charles. "This time next year, if you can cut it – you'll be qualified to fly her. Take a good look – if everything goes well, this is what you can look forward to. This is the brass ring, Charles."
He turned back to the control panel as Charles sat back in his seat, envisioning the day when he'd be in the pilot's seat... "In case you're wondering – Secondary Adamantium," Armalin said. "That's the way they got around a lot of problems with flying a bird like this – metal fatigue, temperature variants – the entire bird's outer skin is made of a layer of Secondary Adamantum – that's a metal stronger than omnium or titanium steel compounds. Perfect for the Gridrunner. The government gave Quest Corporation access to the creation process of the base metal in exchange for five of these birds-"
Actually, eleven, Kyle thought. The sixth is sitting in a secured hangar at Andrews AFB, on standby in case they need to get the First Family outta Dodge if the bomb goes up – and the other four belong to DELPHI. Three tasked for POGO support, and the other two – a Mark II and a Mark III – they're for... we're not even supposed to think about that. That's Dark Door material.
"-And they used the mass-production variant to outfit this plane."
"Tell me what else she can do..."
"That's a skill I have to work on," Jane said, glancing back at where Stacy was sleeping soundly before turning to look at Tom. "So, what are we doing...?"
"Just looking out the window," Tom replied, almost breathlessly. "I was looking down at the thing on the ground – we're over British Columbia now. I can see traffic signs down there – I could see a guy putting change in a parking meter!"
"Okay – are we checking out those hot Canadian girls down there?"
Jane chuckled, and snuggled close to him. "Now, don't get any ideas... well, not about them, anyway."
"Just kidding!" she smirked. "Now, you never gave me any feedback or an opinion..."
"Well, since you already got a sneak peek at the merchandise, the least you could do is tell me what you thought..."
Tom felt momentarily trapped – and then, as another image came unbidden in his mind, words just came out that made a beautiful smile pour out of Jane.
"Remember the first 'Indiana Jones' movie? I thought -'This has to be what was in the Ark of the Covenant. This view – in full, living color..."
He relished the feel of Jane's lips on his own, but as he pulled her close, another face blinked into view for the briefest of moments... and then, was gone just as quickly, so much so that he didn't even recognize it.
"That was really a good idea, Sandi," Quinn said. "Having those bags ready in the garage just in case we all needed to leave the Tower in an emergency – what are those called again?"
"Bug-out bags," Sandi told her. "There's been a lot of stuff online about being prepared in case you have to leave the place you live because of something like Hurricane Katrina – and after seeing what all those poor people had to go through... all the stuff they showed of those people without any food, or water, medicine..."
Quinn was surprised at the look on Sandi's face. "If something happened like that in Lawndale, I wanted to make sure that we could have the things we needed to stay healthy for seven days – that's how long it took before the government could get help in to those people. I know that we might not have to worry – Quest could get stuff in way before that, like we did down there – but still, you never know what things will be like. People get scared and crazy during times like that, and they'll do anything to get whatever they need to survive-"
"That's why you put that bear-class pepper spray in everyone's bags?"
"It'll drive people away without anyone having to use their powers openly." I think you're going to freak when you see what else I have in my bag, and Brittany's... "There's also a couple of survival packages I set up with those – Sgt. Nemec helped me."
"It's just so weird that she's being so nice to you now! She still sneers at the rest of us – well, maybe not so much at Stacy anymore – why is she treating you two so different?"
"She's not, Quinn. She's just trying to teach us stuff that'll help us help other people, and Stacy and me are just trying to see things the way she does. She's not that bad – Gawd, she needs a makeover, and don't look at her fingernails when she eats – somebody needs to go back into Fashion Basic Training...!"
Both girls giggled, but Sandi thought, A year or so back, I'd have been laughing out loud at people like Sgt. Nemec – and not noticing how hard they were trying not to laugh at me. Pretty nails aren't as important as a lot of other things, and those things (and people like Sgt. Nemec) are WAY more important than any clothes, makeover or being popular-
Well, let's not lose focus here. The Prom IS important – that's a memory to be made! – And then there's the Senior Prom, and the Debutante Ball... I'd say Homecoming, but we didn't get to have one because there's no Lawndale High to come back to yet (but they ARE working fast to get it back up – I heard that they'll be ready to start classes at the beginning of the next school year... Seniors at the New Lawndale High, and in the Legion. I can be popular again and still help people, and mean it... there's nothing wrong with having fun, as long as you don't lose focus.
Speaking of having fun, and focus, and all of those cute Prom gowns... we've never had a formal event since the Legion begun. Something with all of the popular people... and all of the important people... and since we're the Legion, and people all over know about us, all sorts of celebrities and stars – I was reading up on the Colonel, and even outside of the service, he's a kind-of-celebrity, so he'd probably know people to invite to our formal Legion ball...Our Legion Formal Ball – to introduce ourselves to Lawndale and everyone else, because now we have the place to have a big dance, and celebration...oh, yeah. And for the other kids in all of the other Legion chapters. They don't HAVE to spend money on formal gowns and suits or tuxes for the guys... maybe the Legion jackets and nice clothes, too – or how about a Legion dress uniform for formal occasions, like the Colonel has his dress blues and his regular uniforms – something nice, but doesn't cost an arm and a leg, that makes the other Legionnaires look good; even the ones who aren't fashionable should get that.
Hey, now. Thinking like we're the old Sandi for a moment.
Still doesn't mean that we can't crack on the unfashionable people for just a moment. For old times' sake...but just a moment, otherwise I'd have to think about –
I refuse to think about that. People can change anyway, right? That's what I'm doing, so I guess it's all right if-
I don't want to think about that.
But we have to have something for our families first. Thanksgiving's coming up, and nobody's had much time with their families... maybe we could have Thanksgiving Dinner at the Legion Tower, and invite everyone...and have a reason for everyone to dress up...
"I was just wondering something; Thanksgiving's a few weeks off – you're going to have dinner with your family at home, right?"
"I guess so..."
"I was thinking about it, because with the problems that my brothers are at the table every year..."
He sat next to the temporary barracks that he had brought up with him – if I don't have to be uncomfortable, then why should I be? I'll be in the muck soon enough SOMEWHERE around the world, right? – and looked up into the early morning sky as he heard the sound of a jet in the distance.
His name was Betty.
The Colonel had hired him for two reasons – but only the first was important here. Armalin knew that he was a better instructor at survival in hostile environments – better in survival than than even he was, and he didn't even have the powers that should have given the Colonel an overwhelming advantage – but he didn't want him to train them.
Just enjoy your stay up here. If they show up and ask, you're a Brit with money, a taste for adventure and who likes being left the hell alone – so this is my yard for right now, and I'll thank you kids to stay the hell off it! 'Get offen my yard' – or whatever you say over there...
If things go well, you won't even see any of them – not all of them, and only a couple, maybe once or twice. Just keep an eye out in case anyone needs help – and if anyone needs emergency medical treatment, send us a signal and teleport them to the hospital here in Lawndale. We've already worked out a protocol with them as far as Legionnaire injuries are concerned. – and before you teleport, MAKE SURE that you remember to dampen the effect field. The LAST thing we need for you to do is deforest two-thirds of the island and cause a minor tsunami on the coastline because you jumped a few thousand miles and caused an explosion in doing it.
That was the second reason the Englishman was hired –and why he was called 'Betty'. He was an explosives specialist who looked upon the creation and application of things that go 'boom' as beyond a profession, and more of a calling.
He could use explosive devices to do almost anything required; perhaps something as small and delicate as setting a nano-charge in a dash of jelly to dispatch a particularly annoying and repulsively large black fly with a minimum of splatter (the fly was blown neatly in half, but not apart - and for some strange reason, the folks back at Hereford loved to replay that on Christmas).
For larger purposes, he was intimate with the latest Class 5 weaponry of this nature in the British arsenal, right up to the rhenium/antimatter devices that Her Majesty's Government had created and kept unassembled (but ready to go within twenty-four hour's notice) in case of a spaceborne ELE (such as a rogue comet or asteroid) that needed to be effectively obliterated and wouldn't be scratched by the nuclear devices the other governments had.
He also was a metahuman, with an ability that fit his profile (a SBS master chief working on special detached duty with the Quest Corporation in their armaments research division); he had the ability to transport himself great distances with unerring, unnerving speed and accuracy – and proved it by teleporting himself from a Royal Navy frigate in the North Sea, to a second frigate roughly 400 miles dead east of the Falkland Islands, to a small tropical island located some one hundred or so miles south of the Pitcairn Islands – and directly into an empty chair in the dining room at Number Ten, Downing Street... where he presented a pair of freshly-cut pineapples to the wife of the Prime Minister, who had ordered the test and was waiting for him.
Minus the five minutes it took to get the pineapples, it took only twenty-eight seconds for him to teleport around the world. Of course, the island and the two frigates were effectively erased from existence in the massive plasma release caused by the instaneous, microscopic, cross-dimensional convergence of several universes as his form acted as a tesseract – as it opened and closed, sending out a release of energy in direct proportion to how far he traveled. He could release the energy at the point of exit or entry, but he had to release it, and it exploded outward from him in a blistering, shearing wave from his waistline... The first time he demonstrated his ability for the Black Air representatives, the oldest one (a Cambridge lad who'd felt the need to prove that no Fritz sniper could outshoot him in WWII) remarked how much like the German weapons they knew as 'Bouncing Betty's his power was...
The name stuck immediately.
The silly ones always do.
Betty sat back down and sprinkled seasonings on the pair of arctic char he'd caught earlier, now grilling on his portable grill. He loved the fish, freshly caught, and the smell reminded him of vacations in Scotland where he'd also caught them... not to mention Edme, and her huge, gray eyes, and the fact that she was better as a fisherman than she was.
Just enjoy your time here. It's on the Quest Corp's bill. Three weeks of just enjoying the quiet – and then, you'll transfer down to the Utah site. I'll have the mansion opened – I'll have Miss Hall re-open it – and then, you'll get to work. Just remember... if you go off like a baby nuke, we'll have to explain that. If you go off with just enough force to level a few buildings – that, people will see and just say, 'Wow – wasn't that cool...?' In fact, you may want to have a TV crew come out and see you working with the explosives – people love to see things blow up – and that'll allay suspicion from your primary duties. Oh, yes – the night before you leave... have a fireworks display for the masses. A BIG display. At least forty minutes in length, and something to make the Millennium celebratory shows look sad in comparison. That's great PR with the folks at home.
Betty let the scent of his breakfast fill his nostrils. Let's just hope those kids can survive off Armalin's teat for a few days in the wild. I always love hearing people tell their Outlast stories; maybe these kids will have a few things happen that'll be fodder for stories later on. I still get a laugh talking about the fawn that ate my corn flakes when I set my kit down and went to take a leak...
"Blum-Deckler... are you okay?"
"Yes... sir," the beautiful Asian girl said, looking up from her portable DVD player to see Armalin standing next to her. "I'm... watching –"
"Buckaroo Banzai Against The World Crime League!" Armalin said, delight in his voice. "Back at the Academy, me and my friends would always watch all of the Buckaroo Banzai Trilogy films... "
"But... there's... seven... now," the girl drawled. "If... there's... seven... why... do... they... call... it... a... trilogy...?"
Armalin gave her a look that left no doubt he had seriously considered tossing her out of the plane for the briefest of moments. "You're not a 'Blue Blaze', are you?"
"Nobody... in... the... Legion... can... start... fires... except... Tom... with...his... eyes..."
"Blum-Deckler – why are you watching that movie?"
"I... forgot... to... bring... my... DVD... case... and... this... is... Stacy's..."
"Rowe brought a DVD player?" He shook his head in disbelief - I'll have a talk with her when they get back – and then a thought struck him...
"Blum-Deckler... what did you bring?"
"My... makeup... kit... and... a... hair... dryer... because... Quinn... can... hold... the... plug... and... it... will... run..."
Tiffany turned away from Armalin, missing the pained look on his face, and stared out the window.
"I... was... wondering... how... far... up... we... are... in... the... air..."
"Actually, we'll start coming down in a few minutes," he said, forcing himself to smile at her. "Look... we haven't talked much lately, even during your training, and - I was just wondering... is there anything that you'd like to talk to me about?"
Tiffany looked into the universe, and then came back. As much as she ever does. "Why... aren't... you... dating?"
Well, that one came out of nowhere. "Blum-Deckler, I don't feel that it's appropriate to discuss my personal life with you –"
"But... you... know... all... about... us," she pointed out. "You... aren't... married... or... divorced... there's... no... mark... where... the... ring... would... be..."
"Blum-Deckler, I wanted to just let you know that I don't want you to feel that you can't just come and talk to me if you're having problems, or just need to speak freely-"
"You're... not... gay... are... you...?"
Armalin dropped his head in defeat, and went to the rear compartment of the hypersonic transport as Tiffany turned her head upward in contemplation... or maybe she was just fascinated by the reading light just above and before her seat.
That one kind of bit you on the bottom, didn't it?"
"Morgendorkker – I mean, Morgendorffer." Armalin stood quietly for a moment, and then looked back at Daria, who was sitting alone in the last row with a novel for company. "I apologize."
Daria shrugged, and Armalin gave a glance to Jane, sitting in the seat directly opposite Daria's; Jane took the hint and went forward to sit with Tom and Brittany, who were playing Uno, as Armalin took her seat.
"That has been a point of minor discussion with the former Fashion Clubbies – as well as with the Y-chromosome crowd, especially since you wore your dress uniform with all of your shiny buttons and ribbons on it. They wonder why you aren't chasing at least something around."
Because I take my job seriously, because the pickings are pretty slim around these parts and because all of the women I've seen that are decent looking are taken, like that Landon guy's wife and the cute little art teacher that used to work at Lawndale High – I ran into her at the Lawndale Mall buying books, she's really a sweet woman - and when I went over to pay my respect to Mr. Vitale, I remember getting a very good look at your m-
Armalin was suddenly and profoundly grateful for the training in deflecting passive psionic scans and mental resistance that he'd received from various sources since he was sixteen years old, as well as his own natural psi-defenses. "I'm not dating or seeing someone because I have a job to do here in Lawndale. This is the last time I'll discuss this personal part of my life with you, Morgendorffer. Pass that around, and make sure that everyone understands."
Daria's eyes were widened by the snap Armalin put into his voice. "Good. Now that we understand that, let's talk about you."
"There's nothing new to talk about."
"No, I'd say there's plenty... for one thing, you've actually loosened up a tiny, tiny bit from when I first met you, six months ago."
"You're making me blush."
"That's not a joke, Morgendorffer. After my first meeting with you, I have to tell you that I was seriously considering other options concerning you being in the Legion." He looked Daria directly in the eye, and the young woman felt a distinct spike of ice began to inch its way up her spine. "There are very few things more dangerous than a psionic without any control over themselves or their powers."
Armalin sat forward in his seat. "The doctors say that you've been doing better with controlling your blood pressure; this is actually a problem a number of baseline-normals have that suddenly gain psionic abilities-"
Daria stopped him short. "There are other psychics out there?"
Armalin was silent for a touch longer than Daria liked; he simply said, "Yes," and reached into his fatigue jacket to pull a small device from a pocket. "This is for you."
"What is it?" she said, looking it over; the device was meant to be worn on the wrist, judging from the thick, Velcro-fastened wristband, and it had a small numerical pad and a small display on the front, covered by a clear, flip-up panel. "A bit fancy for a watch, isn't it?"
"This is a Mark 10 psionic interlock," he told her, unfastening the Velcro strap. "Take off your BP monitor bracelet and put this on. For the immediate future, whenever you're going into the field, you'll wear this."
"Here's your manual – if you get bored, it's fascinating reading," he responded dryly. "Those are standard-issue to all psis who gained their powers as you have – accidentally, as opposed to being born with them or having them manifest around puberty... This device has several uses. First off, it'll act as a health monitor – all of your vitals, not just your BP, and if it detects that your pressure's spiking, it has a 'calming' mechanism built in that will activate to calm you down. A hypersonic/vibratory wave generator, and it works very well."
"Why are you just giving me this now?"
"To be frank, Morgendorffer – you haven't earned the right to have one until recently. You've been busting your butt in PT and AIT-"
Advanced Individual Training, Daria remembered. "-And you haven't had any further problems with your psi-powers. Personally, I wish that we had a qualified psi to come in and work with you, but mind-types with the right qualifications are very hard to come by. Once we're finished, Morgendorffer – you're going to have a world of opportunities opening up to you. You've gotten to a point where people believe that you have a need for a Mark 10. It could save your life."
Daria fastened the Mark 10 snug against her left wrist and looked it over. "Looks like a fancy monitor Olympic athletes would use."
Armalin decided not to tell her about the GPS locator inside the device – or any of the other features... "You said that this was a 'Mark 10'. Is there a 'Mark 20?"
"There is – and depending on how you do in your training, you may be granted access to one someday," Armalin told her. "The people who have those... I understand that they're... that they have a lot of fun using them."
"What about a 'Mark 30?' Do you have those?"
Daria cringed inwardly from the look on Armalin's face as he suddenly rose from his seat. "There is a 'Mark 30'... and I hope we never need to talk about your needing one," he said. "Excuse me for a moment."
Jane watched as the Marine walked past, and then darted back to Daria. "Oh, look – he gave you jewelry!" she smirked, noticing the Mark 10 on Daria's wrist. "Does it have an MP3 player or let you go online?"
"It's supposed to watch my blood pressure and keep it down with a... 'hypersonic/vibratory wave generator."
"He gave you a vibrator? Daria, I didn't think that you liked the military types...!"
"Keep it up, and I'll kick you so far off the planet that you'll never be able to find your way home!"
"All right – listen up, Legionnaires!" Armalin said, coming back from the cockpit with Charles in tow. "Ruttheimer, tale a seat. People, count off by three!"
After a quick chorus of "One!" "Two!" "Three!", Armalin looked around at the young men and women. "I want everyone with the same number in the same row. Move it!"
Charles sat just behind Jane and Sandi, who looked at one another and nodded grudging approval, while Daria rolled her eyes as she watched Stacy and Brittany bounce into the seats next to her. Quinn gave both Tom and Tiffany big smiles as they sat down, which made Jane's eyes narrow.
I wouldn't, like, worry about that," Sandi said, tapping Jane on her forearm. "She's like that with every guy – and besides, she's never go after any guy who thought her sister was cuter than she was."
"What the hell does that mean?!"
"Lane, you got something you'd like to share with the rest of the kindergarten?"
"Ah, no sir," she said, her face reddening as she saw how everyone was staring at her. "Just waitin' for a chance to get down there and whup some supervillain butt, that's all."
"You know, people were annoyed when I did a Will Smith impression, Lane – and I am a Black Marine fighter pilot. Save it for later."
"Sir, what exactly are we doing down there?"
Armalin looked down at Quinn, and then around the cabin. "All right – here it is, Legionnaires. You are here to participate in an MHAACS- 'Meta-Human Asset Acclimation and Compatibility Screening- scenario-"
He pronounced the acronym as 'em-hacks'. "–One of the five primary qualifications that all known metahumans must undergo and complete in order to gain certification and be allowed unrestricted movement and operational privileges in the United States and those other nations that are signatories to the Bowman Acts. You did realize that there were other reasons that the training cadre and I have been here besides teaching all of you how to keep from getting stomped on by every person who can float in the air and fire an energy beam from their eyes, right?"
"I'm not going to work for the government or joining the military."
"Did anyone ask you if they wanted you to join their group or agency, Ms. Morgendorffer?" Armalin said, spearing her with that look that all of the Legionnaires had learned to dread. "While the height of arrogance is supposedly to say that one would never belong to a group that would in fact have one as a member, it is actually, in fact, operating under the grossly misplaced assumption or delusion that they would in fact want you to become a part of their group. A great woman who I was fortunate enough to train under when I was younger said something I've always remembered about becoming a member of the special force she was a commander in. It applies to any group like hers, however."
"There are other groups of people like us?" Tom said, stunned. "Organized and trained like us?"
"Mr. Sloane, you didn't pay attention to what I said moments ago. 'All known metahumans'. If there are international protocols set in place, then there's probably been a few groups of people just like you, right?"
Tom nodded. "All right, then. Her name was Ororo, and she told one of her trainees that there was a reason the original five members of that group were chosen as opposed to others with powers who were active at the time - and why she and her teammates were specifically chosen to replace them. She told him that it was why he belonged there, and why some of the others in training at the time may not... because being a member of that team meant more than just being a metahuman."
Armalin walked around them as he spoke, stopping in front of Sandi and looking directly into her eyes. "It was about being a hero."
They shared a smile, and Armalin looked around at the others. "Get fastened in, everyone. We're starting our descent. I'll give you the rest when we're dirtside."