Part 3 – 'Learning To Fly'
I remember the first time that I met Quinn Morgendorffer. I wasn't impressed. However...that would change.
From Inside The Tower, by K. M. Sherrie.
The tall, slender brunette sat atop her bed and watched as Quinn Morgendorffer exited the bathroom and walked over to her bed. "Nice outfit," she remarked, noticing the pink, frilly nightgown that Quinn had in her hands. "Is that what the well-dressed superhero wears to bed?"
Quinn looked over at Sherrie – she remembered that as the female cadet's name – and shrugged. "I always wear things like this – even before I got my powers. You never told me what you do."
Sherrie looked her over for a long moment, and Quinn got the distinct feeling that the unremarkable brunette – not unattractive, but just average in looks and presence – was considering if she was worth even speaking to. Quinn knew that look very well; it was the same look that Daria had leveled in her direction countless times.
The girl shrugged. "I'm a 'fixer."
"A 'fixer'. I have the power of intuitive awareness of a problem or a situation; I look things over, study it for a while, and then, I can tell you just what needs to be done in order to fix it or improve it. If I'm personally exposed to something, my body adapts to protect me from it, and then allows me to synthesize materials that perform the same function."
"Huh?" Quinn's eyes showed her complete ignorance of what Sherrie had just said. "How does that work?"
"Okay... demonstration," the girl said, sliding off to the side of her bed and fixing her eyes on Quinn. "You generate and control lightning, right?"
Sherrie looked her over for about a minute, and Quinn grew distinctly uncomfortable by the way the girl ran her eyes over her. "Okay, I see," she said, standing up and taking a plastic drinking cup from her dresser as she headed for the bathroom. "I see how it works, now... oh, yeah."
The girl went to Quinn and ran a finger across her forehead, then stuck the finger in her mouth as Quinn flinched. "Oh, stop that," she said, filling the cup with water from the faucet, then went back to her bed and sat down, holding a finger in the water as she did so.
Quinn's face crinkled as she watched. "Ewwww... I hope you don't think that I'm going to drink that after you-"
"I can't believe that you're the Leader of the Legion," Sherrie huffed, her voice making Quinn sit without further comment as she stirred the water with her finger. "I could see your sister, or Jane Lane doing it again, or even Sandi Griffin – but you..." She finished stirring, and handed the glass to Quinn. "Drink this – wait a minute."
She rose again from her bed, and took a couple of ice cubes from the mini-fridge on the floor, which she held in her palm for a minute before letting them fall into the cup. "Oh, stop rolling your eyes and crinkling your face – you said you wanted to see how my power works, right?"
Quinn looked uneasily at the cadet, and then lifted the cup to her lips. "Drink all of it," the girl ordered; when Quinn finished, she took the cup and stepped back. "Okay – let's see you use your power."
As Quinn stood in the middle of the floor, she let a electrical current leap and flow between her outstretched palms – and noticed that, instead of the usual golden-yellow bolt of power, her electrical arc was a burning bluish-white arc that seemed more powerful than usual!
Sherrie walked to the bathroom, refilled the cup and without warning, threw the water on Quinn, whose scream filled the room! "Why did you do that?" Quinn asked, looking at Sherrie with total confusion on her face.
"I adapted your body chemistry so that you can't be affected by your own powers," the female cadet calmly informed her. "Before now, if you'd been using your powers and someone tossed water on you, you'd have been zapped by your own blasts – now, you could be underwater and fire at full power without hurting yourself. You're also immune to the negative effects of superconductivity, too – that's what the ice cubes were for. Cold will boost your powers, but you'll be able to fully control them if that happens – and your powers won't be affected by heat any longer... you did know that heat would reduce the intensity of your powers, right?"
Quinn stood in the middle of the room, water dripping from her nightclothes as Sherrie dropped the cup on the desk and went back to her bed. "I've got dry pajamas in the top drawer," she said, curling up beneath the covers. "There are plenty of towels in the closet, too. Get the water up before you go to sleep, and if you decide to go out, don't make noise when you come back – I'm turning in early because I need some sleep for tomorrow. I don't want to slip and fall when I wake up. Oh, yeah – you've powers are boosted; your output's probably doubled – and you should be able to use your powers in any environment the way you do normally. In vacuum, you'll generate streams of conductive gas when you use your power."
The girl turned towards the wall, and Quinn stood open-mouthed for a moment before starting towards the closet. "Thank you," she said, wiping her face with a thick, fluffy towel. "But... but why did you-"
Sherrie rolled back over to give Quinn a look of dismissal that Daria would have been impressed by. "Because a nitwit like you needs all the help that she can get. Stop talking and dry up the floor. I have tests this week, and just because I agreed to let one of you Legionnaires bunk in here doesn't mean I have to be a celebrity babysitter."
Sitting in a cool, secluded spot on the private beach her family frequented for vacations for five generations on the Caribbean island of Cristal Cielo, Natalia Lucchini was in a foul mood that even the excellent wine she sipped could dampen.
The lovely young Argentinean woman reclined upon a pair of plush, decorative pillows she had brought along and looked out over the incredible view of the setting sun, unbothered by the servants from her family's mansion about a mile away (several of whom had experienced her flamethrower temper before, but not without cause). She sipped her wine and snacked upon the wonderful appetizer of 'sea marbles and blood' (tiny meatballs of shrimp, crab, scallops and calamari, lightly breaded and baked with tiny amounts of cheeses inside - provolone and freshly-made mozzarella di bufala campana, flown in from Italy specifically for the making of that dish – and served with an extraordinarily thick and savory tomato paste seasoned with Italian flavorings, kept warm in a special dish heated by warm water in a second receptacle) provided for her and her now VERY-late date, who Natalia ('Nat' to her friends and family) decided that she'd be only wildly infuriated with – if he had a good reason for not being here, and on time.
Nat was a young woman who didn't like for her plans to be interrupted. She knew exactly how her evening was to have played out – first, she'd worn a very nice dress of the richest cream hue, one that contrasted nicely with the bronzed luster of her flawless skin. She'd taken ninety minutes to decide which dress to wear - up to the knee (not too long, not too short), not too revealing, but very attractive. She had examined herself in the full-length mirror and pronounced herself worthy to be seen outside the walls of her bedroom. Of course, she expected her boyfriend to see her and think that she was gorgeous, even breathtaking... how could she be anything but?
They would have dinner at sunset, here, on the Lucchini's private beach (her family owned fully half of the tiny island paradise outright, and for all practical purposes controlled the other half). A main course of homard lobster, prepared perfectly, with a wonderful dessert of a decorative, custom-made strawberry and mint helado from her home of Buenos Aires that she adored afterwards. A walk on the beach, afterward, with them finding a nice place to sit and watch the almost divine beauty of a Caribbean sunset, with his strong arms around her as she marveled at the amazing panorama of color in the slowly darkening skies over the sea...
Afterwards... Nat felt her body beginning to respond to just the imagined touch of her boyfriend. For an American, he was surprisingly sensitive and responsive to her own needs, and he was more than capable in bed. He was, as the saying goes, 'a real catch'. Wealthy, intelligent, capable of thinking for himself, quite fit physically and handsome...
Nat stretched, showing off her legs (wonderfully sculpted and long) as she turned to look behind her at the single road leading to the beach, and her large, dark eyes narrowed. Darren Appleton, you'd best have a world-class excuse for standing me up, she thought, spearing another sea marble with a toothpick and allowing the tiny morsel to dissolve upon her tongue. If you're not dead or two steps away from it, you're going to wish that you were when next you lay eyes upon me – or you'll wish that you were at least deaf, and even that won't save you, because I know American Sign Language.
Where are you, Darren...?
Enough was enough, she thought; with a casual flick of her hand, she opened her cell phone and hit a trio of buttons.
Thousands of miles away, on a breathtaking estate located forty miles northwest of New York City, a small woman in her early 60's with white hair and a stern, worn look was sipping her drink of cranberry juice and vodka when the multiple-line phone on the other side of her bedroom rang. Sighing, she went to the phone, and her eyes rolled as she saw what number was calling, as well as the line it was on.
Hussy, the older woman thought; as she answered the phone, it was more than clear that she didn't appreciate having to speak to Nat.
"What... do you want?"
Natalia raised an eyebrow at the way Elenor Bairn – the maid for the Appleton family's estate – spoke to her with obvious disdain. That doesn't matter. You helped take care of him as a baby - and you'll help with our children just as well, when the time comes.
"I was expecting Darren a half-hour ago on the beach, Elenor. He's not here, he hasn't bothered to call, and it's not like him to just vanish! Do you happen to know where he is?"
"Well, since Master Darren actually has to think about his future and how he's going to do things of worth for the people-" Nat bristled as the older woman continued, "He's probably been called away on an important matter that's just come up. When I see him next, I will tell him you called. Enjoy your time on the beach, Miss Natalia."
As she closed her phone, Nat thought coolly horrid thoughts of what she'd like to do the older woman, but stilled her temper with a sip of wine. Daddy was right – I have to learn how to keep my temper around people like her – and I can't teleport her a thousand meters into the Earth, into an active volcano or into orbit just because she annoys me.
Furman did like that about me, though...She thought about how her temper was the factor that made the Council decide against her as Furman Singh's wife; she was the last of the three finalists, and even though marrying the handsome, exorbitantly wealthy and powerful Sikh would have had it's advantages, she really did prefer her Darren... even if he were only a 'grubworm'...
As wealthy as the Appletons are, no one will say a word if I marry him.... and when our babies come someday, they'll have an incredible birthright. I'll have to tell Darren about what I can do soon – when he asks me to marry him, that's when I'll tell him... and show him. He's going to love it when I take him around the world, to every major city on the planet in the space of seconds... and he'll finally understand how I manage to always have special things from across the globe at my fingertips. Money really doesn't buy everything... but being Elite helps there.
I do want to go looking for him... but if I show up in New York City an hour from now, there's no way to play it off. Damn! I want him right here, right beside me, right now!
Unaware of just how adorable she looked as she pouted, Nat finished her glass of wine and poured another, before she waved her hand – and a slender gentleman in a perfectly tailored suit appeared besides her.
"Miss Natalia... you need not use your powers to have me come and attend to you," the stately Asian gentleman said, a dry tone in his voice. "I see that Master Darren was not able to arrive for dinner this evening. Shall I serve you at this time?"
"Hikaru, you are divine," she said. "Yes. The larger lobster – I'm feeling a touch hungry."
"Of course, Miss Natalia," he replied, refilling her wineglass. "I'll ready a small broccoli salad for you as well."
"No, the lobster will be enough."
"What are you working on, Martin?"
Cadet 1stC Martin Peters looked up from a very large, loose-leaf binder as Tom Sloane and Mack Mackenzie walked into the large, comfortable area known as the 'Cadet's Club'. "Oh, hey, guys," the young man replied, waving them over to his table. "We've got major exams next week, including the Federal Certification boards. Just brushing up on some of the basics – people should remember that they always ask some of the simplest questions, some of the stuff they learn in their first years, just to trip them up."
Tom looked at the cover of another large binder on the table. "Metagenetics?"
Martin smiles. "You're pronouncing it wrong," he said with a friendly smile. "Meta-GEN-etics, instead of 'meta-gen-net-ics.' It's the study of the 'how and why' behind people developing metahuman abilities. You guys haven't had to study this yet?"
He looked from Tom to Mack; Mack held his hands up in a friendly gesture. "Hey, I joined the super-powered part of the Lawndale Legion just today," he said. "I still haven't even really used my powers for anything big like the others have; I've just done a few tests. Ask him."
"Yeah – I thought I saw your name down for tomorrow morning – they're clearing the entire day for you guys, and for you, they've got the entire morning penciled in. They really expect for you to put on a show when you use your powers, don't they?"
Mack shrugged again. "Aren't there a lot of people with powers like this?"
Martin shook his head. "That's another thing about you guys that's got everyone all buzzing. Almost all of you either have powers that are very rare, or you've got power levels that are higher than almost anyone else who's ever come through here. The power levels that your friend Daria's putting off... if she were here, she'd be one of the five most powerful psis to ever go through the program, and the most powerful female telepath in fifteen years." He reached over for the chocolate Pop-Tart lying in its wrapper, and broke a corner off before popping it into his mouth.
Tom had opened the binder, and flipped through the first couple of pages. "What's this stuff about 'forms?"
"That's how they classify the way people with metahuman abilities got them," Martin explained, turning the binder and flipping to a foldout chart. "Form One is people who were born with their powers – that's single-generation independent metahuman development. People born like that are classified as Homo Sapiens Superior, or just Homo Superior... mutants. Less than one percent of the metahumans known are classified as Form One."
"Form Two is anomalous-catalyst metagene activation," he continued. "Without boring you to death, about twenty years ago, they found out that roughly twenty percent of the population has the potential to have metahuman powers – that's actually gone up since then. If you were to grab five people off the face of the planet – five people at random – at least one of them would have what the scientists call the 'metagene' – a chromosomal variant that causes metahuman development if the person is subjected to some form of life-and-death situation, usually involving some form of chemical or radiation... the ultimate version of the 'fight-or-flight' reflex. Why do you think World War Three hasn't happened yet, even with the way America and Russia were at each other's throats in the 1980's? Everyone starts throwing off nukes, and we'll have a world of metahumans... in a world of billions of people, we'd have millions of metahumans."
The two Legionnaires looked at Martin with a bit of shock on their faces, and then Tom looked to Mack. "Sounds like what happened to you, doesn't it?"
Mack nodded numbly as Martin continued. "Your friends Daria, Jane and Quinn? The legendary 'skunk attack?' Classic Form Two development – but considering that Daria and Quinn are sisters, they might be considered under Form Three, too – that's linear generational manifestation. If you have powers, it might be because your parents had them, or that your brothers and sisters may have them, and there's a very good chance that your kids will, especially if you and your mate both do. Ninety percent chance in that case - and even then, they still might have the metagene..."
Mack noticed the look that passed over Tom's face so quickly that he wiped it from him mind as Martin spoke. "Then, there's people who got their powers through Form Four – radically-induced metagenetic development. Those are the people who were normal, baseline humans, but they went through some form of procedure to specifically give them powers. A lot of people mix up Forms Two and Four; what I just mentioned about specifically trying to get powers is one of the two differences."
Mack looked up from the chart. "What's the other?"
"People who gain powers that way wouldn't have survived a Form Two activation incident." He ate another chunk of Pop-Tart. "Want one? I've got a couple left..."
Both declined; Tom noticed a couple of very pretty women, one in casual attire and another in an Air Force uniform, sitting with a couple of men in shirt and tie as they enjoyed drinks as they sat near the surprisingly large stage up front, where a quintet of musicians were warming up. "They serve alcohol here?"
"21 and older – for the most part," Martin said, smiling as he remembered how the club was closed for the night two weeks ago last Saturday; he and the graduating First Class cadets celebrated the completion of the practical exam portion of their Federal Boards – a seven-day, full-power training exercise on the west coast of Ellesmere Island, in the Canadian territory of Nunavut. "It's actually a nice little club – they have live music four nights a week, and some sick person decided that Thursday night should be 'Karaoke night', so it's usually crowded then... they've got a serious selection of juices, smoothies and they mix up specialty drinks that aren't bad..."
The cadet sat up a bit straighter. "You ought to check out a few of the jocks around here," he said, looking in Mack's direction. "We've got a few sports teams here."
The Legionnaires spoke at the same time. "Is that fair?"
"Nobody's allowed to use their powers – and besides, they're allowed to use 'flush' before games if they want. In the First Academy, there's football, basketball, baseball, soccer, rugby, and swim teams that compete with other schools – regular and like ours – and up in the Elite Academy – we've got a few other sports, too. About three years ago, some crazy fool actually got a Quidditch team started here. Now, they get to travel..."
"Quidditch? Like in the Harry Potter books?"
"And in the movies – and in real life, so to speak," Martin said, a smile on his face. "Yeah, I know that sounds crazy, but wait until you read the back story on Rowling – it's the biggest international government disinformation campaign since the whole Wormhole X-Treme franchise. You should see the way they tricked out the brooms – you haven't lived until you've gone 200-plus miles an hour on a broomstick. Funny thing – the teams are usually mostly female..." He turned to face Tom. "You know, it's kind of unusual to see you getting along so well with Daria and Jane, after all I've seen of you guys together... in the tabloids, I mean..."
A very curious look went over Tom's face, but Mack cut him off. "I just thought of something – how many people go to school here?"
"Well, they take a hundred new students every year – getting into the Academy is a serious prestige thing, if you make it through, you can basically write your ticket, career-wise – you do six years in the First Academy, and five years in the Elite Academy, including a year's internship off-campus somewhere... there's about a hundred special-assignment students in both academies and a hundred or so students from other nations whose governments sent them ...roughly thirteen hundred students are enrolled here."
He looked again at Mack. "You'd probably like it here, Mack – Mack, right? You'd probably come in as a Cadet First Year – that's a senior in regular high school – and from what I've seen, you'd be able to walk onto the football team when they begin summer training. Then, if you decided that you still wanted a shot at the pros after your senior year here, getting your powers down solid, they would probably swing you an appointment to one of the main service academies so you could play on one of their teams, but doing summer classes here at the Elite Academy as your internship year. They can be flexible for people here."
Mack sat back in his chair, his eyes wide; he was about to speak when a familiar voice turned his head. "I could go to school here?"
"Well, isn't that part of why Colonel Armalin brought you guys – to see if any of you wanted to go to school here?"
Mark turned to Tom, whose face was as blank as his own, and turned back to Martin when a voice from behind pulled his head in that direction.
"Mackenzie! A moment of your time, please?"
Tom also looked up as he saw Colonel Kyle Armalin walk up to the table; Martin immediately slid from his chair and came to attention. "As you were, Cadet Peters,"
He said, seeming slightly uncomfortable by the look of admiration on Martin's face. "Mackenzie...?"
As Armalin and Mack walked away, Martin turned to Tom. "You guys were trained by Colonel Armalin personally. Do you know how many people would kill to be in your shoes?"
"It's not such a big deal," Tom replied, as the memories of the Wagon Wheel and lifting multi-ton weights came back to him. "Really."
"Are you crazy? I can count on one hand the number of people in the U.S. Government or the services who went to the Xavier Institute and served as one of his operatives! The Commandant went to school there and was on the team for a bit, but he just runs the Academy. It's not like he's standing there, directing everything himself..."
"Hey, rich boy," a voice from behind spoke, and Tom turned his head to see the pretty cadet who had spoken to him at Legion Tower. "Nice to see you in town..."
Martin raised an eyebrow as he saw his fellow cadet come up and put a delicate hand on Tom's shoulder. "You know Maryann, Tom?"
Tom slid out of his seat and turned to the cadet, noticing that she was his height and that she was very pretty – she's got her 'hot girl next door' thing down pat, doesn't she? – and then, immediately went red...
"No, I'm not a telepath," the girl said, her eyes nevertheless holding a clear message: I know what you were just thinking. You're really cute, too... "I'm like you. I'm Maryann Lyter. Cadet Second Class Maryann Lyter."
Martin looked at the light blue beret she held in her hands. "What's with the beret?"
"Oh, nothing... it just means that I can toss you all around the room," she said coyly. "Buy me a cranberry juice – that way, I have something else to do with my hands."
Tom became suddenly very aware of just how close Maryann was standing to him. "Uh, I'm seeing someone –"
Large gray eyes fixed upon him. "That would factor into your getting me a juice because...?"
Suddenly feeling very small, Tom turned and slunk over to the bar as Martin fixed his eyes on his fellow cadet. "That was mean, Lyter. You shouldn't do that to him – he's already noticed that you're a girl..."
"I know – but with these rich boys, you can't let them ever think that they're in control. Gotta keep them off balance... besides, when I rescue him from that artist girlfriend of his, he'll need to remember that I didn't fall all over him the first time we met."
"Isn't that a bit petty?"
"Excuse me – but you're the one that's had a huge crush on Daria Morgendorffer from afar for how long, and now that she's here, you can't even get near her, let alone talk to her," Maryann replied, but with a touch of compassion in her tone. "You don't tell me how to deal with someone that interests me, and I'll return the favor."
Martin set down his pen. "Just tell me that when – if you get him, you won't do anything stupid, like making out while both of you are using your super-strength. It's embarrassing when everyone's wondering what caused the mini-tremors... and even more embarrassing when the tremors only last for a few minutes."
"Funny. At least I can talk to people I'm interested in outside my own personal Holodeck." She put her hand on Martin's shoulder. "David Allen thinks that she's okay – a huge plus all by itself – and if you don't make a move soon, Leda might beat you there. Rumor is that she's already crushing on her..."
Martin remembered the way Leda was holding Daria's hand, and nodded. "Maybe you should go and talk to her – and show her the other part of your power. You're not a bad guy, Martin. That mom of yours is scary, but you're okay... six-foot-two, two hundred pounds and its lots of nice, solid muscle - you're a catch, you know? Also, considering what they've dealt with, your mom wouldn't scare her off... and you could show her that hot springs you created for the Quidditch team's celebration after we beat the Brits back in January."
Tom arrived with a glass of juice. "Good, you can follow orders," she said, taking the glass in her right hand and Tom's hand in her left. "Come on, rich boy, let's sit and talk."
"I can't – I just remembered that I wanted to ask the guitar player something..."
Tom scampered away, and Maryann let an exasperated sign escape her lips. "You get to escape this time, rich boy..."
"You've been looking around the place, Mackenzie?"
"Ah, yes, sir," Mack said; for some reason, he didn't feel the need to be on guard as Armalin talked to him. "You wanted to ask me that?"
"Not exactly," came the reply. "You know, you haven't started Legion training yet, so there's nothing to unlearn in terms of protocols or tactics if you decide to attend school here for your training."
Mack gave Armalin a wide-eyed stare. "The stipend that you'd get for attending here isn't as much as you'd get for being in the Legion – but there are several advantages, and disadvantages as well. Might as well be open about it," the older man continued.
"You're asking me if I want to go to school here, instead of being a part of the Legion?"
"I'm presenting you with another choice," Armalin told him. "There's a reason I wanted you to come along, even though you've been with the others for roughly fifteen seconds. You have a choice that isn't clouded by the fact that you attended Lawndale High with most of the other Legionnaires until last year; you know them and you all like each other, but you're not part of the team yet – you haven't made yourself a place among them. You could do that – you would be a great asset to the Legion on many levels – but I'm just pointing out that you do have options."
"Do I have to decide right now?"
"You don't have to make a decision at all," Armalin told him. "You're a Legionnaire. If you wanted to attend the Academy, it could happen – I've had the chance to go over your school records, you'd have no trouble getting in – but you're your own man."
Mack paced about for a moment, and Armalin said nothing for several seconds. "There's something else that I wanted to say, if you decide to stay with the Legion... something that most people don't want to hear. The Legion gets a lot of publicity, and by becoming a member, you're going to get a lot of it... mainly because you're a 'first-black'. Someday, if you're a Legionnaire and they go public... you're going to get a lot more. As an Academy student, you'd just be another potential military officer, or Special Agent, or whatever your fancy carries you toward – but where you are now... you're the first Black Legionnaire. For good, ill, just out of morbid curiosity and as a 'role model' – people will be watching you."
"I got that all the time at Lawndale," Mack said, thinking back to how self-conscious he felt on occasion at LHS, especially with Ms. Li's maniacal desire for 'The HONOR of... Lawndale High...'
The young man smiled, and Armalin raised an eyebrow. "Sorry – I just remembered how the principal at Lawndale was psychotic about how everyone's actions reflected on the school. I always felt like I was under a magnifying glass there."
"Well, if you're a Legionnaire... the magnifying glass will be the size of Nebraska, someday. I trust you saw the photos of your friends Morgendorffer and Rowe?"
If he didn't know better, Mack would have sworn Armalin asked him that to get a reaction; he'd heard some of the cadets mentioning the magazine, but hadn't seen it himself yet. "No, I haven't," he mentioned.
"Talk to Morgendorffer about it," he suggested. "She has a way of keeping to herself, even with the celebrity light on her. "Better yet – watch how she deals with what's about to happen. If she can survive the spotlight, anyone can. Oh – and Griffin, too, if you need to talk about this subject."
The room was surprisingly quiet as Jane and Leda sat on their own beds and munched popcorn as a DVD movie played.
Leda broke the silence first. "Don't you want to ask me anything?"
Jane actually managed to chew through the mouthful of popcorn she'd stuffed inside, and washed it down with a big swallow of orange drink. "Nope. Daria's cool about you, so you're solid with me."
"Okay." Leda gobbled down a handful of popcorn. "You wanna make out?"
"What are you – hitting me for reactions, or just a character from off TV?"
Leda smiled at the exasperated look on Jane's face. "Oh, I just wanted to see that look on your face – that's the look that says, 'Oh, Daria...' – kind of like her mom. You two really are good friends, you know?"
Jane drew back as Leda studied her for a moment, and then sat up, her green eyes shining. "Oh, wow... did you and Daria – she let you in, didn't she? She did a mindlink with you, and you two... oh, wow. She really does trust you more than anyone else she's ever met."
The look on Jane's face was priceless. "Daria said that about me...?"
"No – she thought it. She believes it. It just rolls out of her. Hey, you're sure that you don't want to make out?"
"Daria said that you'd do that to mess with my head."
"Oh, poo," Leda mock-pouted. "Wanna talk about anything else?"
"Yeah... what's up with this testing tomorrow?"
"Well, you guys have probably been tested and gone through a lot of stuff with the scientists to see what you can do, right? Well, they're going to give all of you ratings tomorrow – that's the way everyone has to go – and they'll try to see if there's any other latent abilities that you have that you just haven't manifested yet. They'll also try you out with people who have powers like yours, so you can talk tricks and give each other ideas."
"There's other people with magnetic powers like me?"
"Not many at all – but when they show up, from what I've heard, they're always powerful," Leda told her. "I think there's only seven or eight in all of the files, and only two have come through the Academy – this redhead back in the mid-eighties, and Alison's here now. She's a Cadet Second Year – about the same age as you and Daria. They'll probably stick you with her tomorrow."
"Can she fly?"
"Yes, but she doesn't, much. You gotta see her torpedoes, though."
Jane let that comment pass. "Are there other students here with powers like ours?"
"Okay... a couple of metamorphs, Carolyn controls electricity and has those whips, Maryann's just like your boyfriend – better watch out for her, she likes stealing boyfriends," Leda said, setting her popcorn bowl aside. "We've got a couple of people who have camouflage and invisibility powers – nobody as strong as your friend Taylor – and we've got enough fighters like Rowe to have their own club, even though none of them can fly anywhere nearly as fast as she can. A couple of people that can phase – and a lot of people with different radiation, energy and light powers that are like your friend Mack...but if the rumors are true, he's going to put them all to shame."
Leda lay back in her bed. "Why are you turning in early, anyway?"
"Because if we're going to spend the entire day in tests, I want to get some rest now," she replied, remembering how she felt after Legion training – as well as the fact that she was, when they began, the only Legionnaire who was reasonably athletic. "I don't want to consider what you guys deal with in training"
"Not as intense as you guys, from what I heard. You guys basically went through Marine Corps boot camp, compared to what we do here. If you were more out in the sticks – if you'd stayed out in Utah, he'd probably have put you through live-fire exercises. THAT is not fun."
"Live-fire?" Jane's eyes went wide; she knew that Leda was right about that. It sounds like something the Colonel would do, if he could... well, I'm the one who's responsible for that. I'm the one who asked for him, more or less.
"Yeah," the girl replied. "Not fun, if you're not paying attention – and there's always somebody who isn't. Thank God the Medical Wing is a full-fledged hospital in all but name – a hundred beds, and a full staff – and there's almost always several students who are healers or something like that. You'll get to meet Danielle tomorrow; she's a Cadet First Year – I'm a Cadet Second Class... I turn twenty in July."
"Come on – don't tell me that you guys don't have a serious sickbay or something in that fancy tower you just built?"
"Well, yeah – I guess I haven't thought about it that much," Jane admitted.
"Don't think about it tonight – if you do, you'll have bad dreams, and I'll pick up on it," Leda said, her voice surprisingly kind. "No, I won't go into your dreams, but I'm empathic – people radiate emotions like sunlight when they dream, and I get very clear imprints of your dreams because of it. My roommate all through the First Academy was a girl named Debi Coeli – she could move through time up to an hour forwards or backwards. Because of her power, she was really focused in the way she thought... sleeping around her was like taking a good sleeping pill. Like sleeping next to a calm lake."
"What about the girl who gave up her bed for me?"
"Rhonda? Trust me, I'm glad she's gone for now. She chatters like a squirrel on uppers – and she still accidentally transmutates things occasionally. Not that people complain – her last major screw-up paid for the uniforms and footwear for the entire Corps of Cadets for the next three years, as well as the new fleet of Academy vehicles. She transmuted four entire banquet tables full of food and about six tables into pure platinum; the Admiral let her keep her plates, silverware and glasses, kept one of the turkeys for his trophy room and had the rest melted down and sold. Things like that happen all of the time – it's one of the reasons we have so many things here, because the Academy is mostly self-sustaining. We don't take in nearly as much government money as you'd think."
Jane looked over at Leda; even with the money of Russell Stark, a lifetime of being two steps ahead of bill collectors had anchored Jane firmly in reality when it came to money- or any way of getting it. "Has she ever transmuted anything for you?"
Leda snorted. "Not for me, on purpose... it's not that they say you can't use your powers for personal gain, but they teach us here that if you're always coming up with things to make money and you can't easily explain where it comes from, people will start looking for you. They've actually got a class on the subject – and they say that it's okay to survive using your powers to make your life easier, but you need not to attract attention. Hey... they give you money for being in the Legion, right?"
"We get a stipend..." A sudden stab of guilt flashed through Jane; even though Trent had just gotten a job with the Legion, she had started paying the bills at the Lane home... and she'd forgotten all about them for the month. "Why?"
"Well... let me show you." Leda slip off her bed and went to her closet; moments later, after opening a small safe, she turned back with a strange clacking sound in her hand. "Want some M&M's – the coolest M&M's you'll ever see in your life?"
She walked over to Jane, and held up a faded, crumpled one-half pound bag of M&M's, Jane gasped in surprise as Leda poured nine of the candies out into her hand – and that they looked like small, shining baubles in the light of the room. "Three years ago, just after Rhonda and I had moved in, I'd gone on a trip to town – okay, I had a date. I got back, and I found Rhonda raiding my stash of M&Ms –I'd just opened the bag – and I yelled 'GOTCHA!"
Leda shook the bag. "She jumped, screamed – and transmuted all of the M&Ms in the bag into diamonds. She said that I could keep them, but it might be a good idea not to go spreading it around. That's another thing they teach in that class – it's the height of bad manners to ask someone with powers like that to help make you rich. Of course, people help out their friends all the time; you know, everyone has families, not everyone is rich, and things have been bad overall for a lot of families – the war in Iraq and the way the country's going..."
She turned to head back to her safe. "This is my safety net, in case something very, very bad happens. Between this and my powers, I'll be able to have a decent life anywhere in the world."
Jane was dumbfounded by the fact that Leda had left the nine diamond M&M's in her palm. "Um, Leda – why are you telling me all about this... and don't you want these back?"
"No, those are for you- and I'm telling you because Daria trusts you... and if she trusts you, then I think I can, too," Leda replied. "As for those... oh, I've got more than enough. Think of them as... a gift. Something from a new friend that you can put away for a rainy day, just in case you, Daria and her sister have to run away again. This time, you'll have the cash to do it right, and Daria won't be so afraid."
"She let you see what happened when we ran." Jane's tone ensured that her words were not a question, and Leda nodded. "Oh."
"Just... just take care of her. I trust you to watch out for her – even from herself, because bad things do happen – and if you ever need our help to help Daria, just call us. We'll be there."
"Get up, Lane," a familiar voice spoke, driving sleep from Jane's brain immediately, and she opened her eyes as a bundle landed on her midsection with a thump. "New uniform – courtesy of your hosts."
Jane looked inside the bundle, and her eyebrows rose as she saw that it was one of her Legion uniforms and a pair of the boots she wore with it. "Good morning, Sgt. Nemec. What's so special about this?"
"They'll explain it to you later," she said, turning to the door. "It's oh-seven-eighteen. You're expected in front of the Administration Building at oh-nine-hundred, so if you want an actual breakfast, I suggest you get moving... or should we go back to Legion breakfast schedules?"
Nemec allowed herself a smile as she left; Jane slid out of the bed in a hurry and dashed for the shower before the older woman cleared the door.
Fourteen minutes later, Jane (dressed in her Legion uniform and getting appreciative glances) walked into Trueblood Cafeteria – the smallest of the three cafeterias on the Academy grounds – and headed for the twin serving lines when a female cadet about her age walked in after her and tapped her on the arm.
"Hello," the girl said, and Jane took in her appearance; shorter than even Daria, but with butter-blonde hair and huge, dark-blue eyes flecked with gold, a face and legs that would have instantly gotten her into the old Fashion Club, and a bosom that rivaled Brittany's (but firmer, Jane sighed, feeling a bit self-conscious). "Jane Lane, right? I didn't get to meet you yesterday, but I was hoping... I'm Alison Cockrum."
A light went off in Jane's head. "Hold on... Leda mentioned you last night, I think. She said that you've got powers like mine." Not to mention what she said about her 'torpedoes'. Oh, I bet she doesn't need magnetism to attract guys – and I bet she hates come-ons like that already.
"Yeah, I do," she said, slightly shyly. "I... ah, I'm really not supposed to be over in here to eat – I'm a second-year, and Trueblood's for the Elite Academy and special guests only. I just wanted to meet up with you and ask you things..."
A tall, stately cadet, first-class insignia on his lapel and a tray with wheat pancakes and peaches in his hands, walked up to the two of them. "Cockrum – you're cute, but you know that you're not supposed to be here, and you know that you're not supposed to be trying to get autographs or anything, right?"
Jane immediately disliked the pompous tone in the otherwise handsome cadet's voice, and her dislike intensified as she saw the way the younger cadet reddened as she snapped to attention. "Excuse me. I'm having a conversation, and I don't recall asking you to step in – so why don't you step off?"
The noise level immediately dampened down in the general area around the two cadets and Jane; the older cadet looked around and drew himself to his full height as Jane noticed that they both wore the same braided silver-and-white cord off their left shoulder. "People under my command are expected to follow my orders – and I'm giving you one, Cockrum. Leave."
"I see punks are punks even when they wear nice uniforms and have some rank," Jane said, not backing down one bit as the cadet looked down on her with the same contempt he would show a dog vomiting in front of him. "I guess that means that I should address you in the right manner – Major Asshole, right?"
Alison's eyes widened (even more than she'd have thought possible, Jane thought) as the older cadet flushed crimson. "I am Cadet First Class William T. Feltson – and you will speak to me with the proper respect. Not everyone here is all starry-eyed over you and your little club of publicity-hounds... Lane. Some people actually worked hard to get where they are."
Jane looked at him, then snorted and turned her back on the cadet. "Oh, screw you-!"
A hand clamped onto her shoulder, and without thought, a tight, heavy beam of pure magnetic force speared out of Jane's back and threw William through an ocean of gasps and cries of surprise as he flew across the full length of the cafeteria and hit hard against a wall!
"You locked onto the iron in his blood, put a charge in him and reversed the charge in your own body... and you did it in a heartbeat," Alison said, looking at Jane with respect. "I can't do that..." "Well, I'm sure that you can do lots of things that I can't," she replied. "Come on. I don't think that I want to eat in any place that has him-"
"Where do you think you're going?"
Jane turned to see William rise up from the floor. "If you want to dance - I wouldn't be a gentleman if I didn't finish out the waltz!"
The pompous cadet raised his right hand and snapped his fingers-
Before she could take another breath, Jane found herself savagely immersed in a thick, overflowing torrent of pure sound that seemed to press into her from every single square centimeter of her body, as if she had suddenly appeared in at the bottom of a giant swimming pool, but with sound instead of water smothering her, drowning her, crushing into her, forcing itself down into her throat and driving up into her nostrils...
It was as if Mystik Spiral had suddenly hit the opening riff on every single song that they had ever played, every single time that they had ever played them, and all at once, right besides her, around and inside her, ripping that single, brutal combined note – magnified over and over and tripled again - at a level that seemed to drive it straight through her eardrums and into her brain-
Jane was on her knees before her scream had even escaped from her mouth.
William started towards her when a solid blow to his jaw from off to his left knocked him over a table, and Jane looked up to see Charles Ruttheimer rubbing his fist as the slightly taller cadet scrambled to his feet! "Hey, look – it's the freak geek with the antennae like a giant mutant cockroach. You don't impress me, either."
Charles' face didn't change expression as his skin took on a metallic glimmer; six seconds later, William's jaw dropped as he was staring up at a twenty-five-foot tall, factory-new-and gleaming blue-with-orange-trim VFA-6Z Veritech Alpha Fighter in Battloid Mode... straight from the animated world of Robotech, but all, all too real for the cadet's taste. He almost lost control of his bladder as the giant robot raised its tri-barreled 80mm pulse-cannon gun pod and brought the evil-looking black weapon down to his face, the barrels beginning to spin up...
"Opinions vary. Apologize to Jane."
"I think that's a good idea, don't you?"
William went white in the face as a voice from another door made him turn; the cafeteria seemed to grow eerily silent as a well-toned young man in the same night-black version of the basic cadet uniform, highlighted by the same insignia and braid as William and Alison (but with a prominent gold thread added to the braid) walked through the door from which, it seemed, he had seen the entire incident. "You were being an ass again, Feltson, and you put your hand on a young lady without her permission. Your choice. Apologize to her... or apologize to me."
The taller cadet hesitated for just a moment, and then walked stiffly over to Jane, who Alison had helped to her feet. "I apologize for my actions."
Jane's eyes swept across his face with an implicit promise in her glare: someday, there will be payback. "Get away from me."
As William felt the eyes of everyone in the area upon him, he scuffled out of the cafeteria, and the young man in the black uniform looked up at the Battloid. "Nice GU-XX gun pod, Robby. Power down before one of the officers comes in and sees you."
Charles returned to normal form and was immediately swarmed by female admirers, which he ignored as he followed the cadet over to Jane and Allison. "You okay, Jane?"
"My ears are still ringing," she admitted, and an obviously infatuated male cadet with raven-black hair like hers came up to Jane, a puppy-dog look on his face.
"I can help you – if you don't mind," he said, offering his hand to Jane – and as she took it, a quick flickering of tiny sparkles rushed up his fingers and over Jane's form, rising quickly around her head and then spurting away in a mass twinkling of bursts, like tiny fireworks going off! "Better-?"
"Yeah – thanks!" Jane said, feeling a rush of energy flow through her, as if she'd just awakened from the best sleep she'd ever had. "Thanks – uh..."
The young cadet's face was immediately brightened. "Kevin – my name's Kevin!"
"Hmn. Well, thank you, Kevin. I owe you one." She smiled at him, which sent the boy away on an actual cloud – well, trail of little starbursts that he seemed to walk away on as he went back to his table, where his friends laughed good-naturedly teased him about the way he was acting; her attention then turned to her fellow Legionnaire. "Nice punch, U- Charles."
The look on Charles' face was more serious than she'd ever seen on him. "He shouldn't have put his hands on you."
"True enough," the cadet said, extending his hand. "I haven't had the pleasure. Cadet Jason Todd."
"He's our cadre commander," Alison said, smiling proudly as Jane shook the cadet's hand. "The Phantom Eagles – the best cadet cadre here at the Academy."
"It can't be that good, if you let jerks like him in."
"He's our Animal Mother," Jason allowed. "He's the best human being in the world; all you need is for someone to throw grenades at him, or try and fry him with plasma beam-fire. If you'll excuse me – I don't think he apologized to you as well as he could have."
Jane noticed the way Alison's face fell. "Maybe we'll get to talk later," the pretty cadet said, following Jason out the door.
Watching the two cadets leave, Jane turned to watch as several cadets helped a number of cafeteria workers clean up the mess on the other side of the cafeteria, as well as move tables back into place. "Charles, do you-"
She shook her head and smirked as she saw Charles being all but swept away in a small knot of female cadets. "Is it just me, or does anyone else find that ironic... not to mention slightly disturbing?" she thought aloud. "We never have this much drama at Legion Tower... the Colonel would never let it fly – waffles. Gotta get waffles before he comes looking for me."