Part Four – 'Electric Youth'
"She's a vorpal beach bunny-!"
-comment overheard in Zero Area observation gallery, just after Quinn Morgendorffer's first testing session
Jen Scotts would have been proud of Quinn Morgendorffer.
They both wore pink as team leaders, instead of the traditional red, and wore
Farkas Bulkmeier and Mackenzie Hartford, Power Rangers Forever!
Quinn was slightly steamed as she left her room that morning. She wasn't happy that Sherrie had left without waking her up – not that she had to, but it would have been a courtesy, right?
Then, to make matters worse... she burned out the female cadet's hair dryer. 'Executed' might have been a better term; a jet of flame a foot long shot out of the front end as Quinn, without thinking, turned the appliance on and used her own ability to generate AC electrical output to power the dryer. Her eyes wide, she threw the dryer straight into the toilet - and cringed at the impressive gush of steam that rose from the bowl.
A curse slipping from her lips that would have made Armalin draw back, Quinn pulled the dryer out by its cord and winced at the drippings of plastic, metal and water that came from the totally ruined object. Okay – no problem... I'll apologize, and I'll buy her a new one – I'll buy her a better one, and I'll even offer her a visit to Legion Tower, and we can give her a tour and a makeover-
The thought of what Sherrie would say to the offer of a makeover made Quinn go cold - and she simply dropped the dryer in the trash.
I'll just buy her a new hair dryer.
She found a fresh Legion uniform in her colors on the desk, with boots sitting nearby, and wondered where they came from. I wonder who brought this – and why they didn't say anything to me – I should have been up early anyway, I'm team leader, I need to find out what we're doing today-
She pulled her cell phone from the desk drawer, and winced as she saw the time – 8:50. Gawd! They're probably all wondering where I am, and they've already started the testing that cadet I met last night mentioned - somebody probably thinks that I've been messing around and lost track of time, or that I'm doing something stupid – Would it have been so hard for her to just say 'Wake up, Quinn?'
Fine. Be rude to me, while everyone just kisses up to Daria and acts like Upchuck is a movie star. If people want to treat me like that while I'm here, then okay. I can do that.
She hit the quick-dial to reach Sandi – but the phone immediately went to the 'searching for service' indicator... Weird, Quinn thought, that I can't get a signal out here – it's not like this is a hospital, or I'm underground - why can't my cell phone work in here?
She shrugged, put her cell-phone in its pocket, and headed out the door.
As Quinn walked down the hall of the dormitory, the female cadets she passed weren't even pretending to not snicker at the way her wet hair hung unfashionably limp; a few simply laughed openly at her, slowly raising Quinn's temper to a level usually seen only in male Morgendorffers.
"Where do you think you're going to school, ladies – the Laguna Beach Academy for Tanning and Gossip? I've told you BOTH again and again and again about PROPER DRESS CODES when you're in uniform!"
The catty tone caught Quinn's attention; she retraced her steps and turned towards the verbal beat-down, finally arriving to see a trim, red-haired female cadet (her hair was a rich, dark scarlet tone compared to Quinn's strawberry-blonde) towering over two younger girls, both probably not even thirteen. "That's twenty demerits each – and I want those pins off your uniforms, right now-" The older cadet's glare followed the suddenly wide-eyed stares of the younger girls directly over to Quinn. "Oh. It's one of you guys."
The redhead turned fully to face Quinn and scoffed as she looked her over. "What's wrong? Lost?"
Quinn seethed as a long, perfect finger pointed almost lazily towards a stairwell. "Head down those stairs and out the door, then turn right and go down three doors. The on-campus hair-care center is there; they might be able to help you."
Looking from the telltale worn and practiced look of boredom on the girl's face to the awestruck looks of the two 'tweens' and the pins on their uniforms (the tiny pins that all National Legion chapter members wore), Quinn put things together very quickly – especially since the pins that the two girls wore were pink with black trim.
She'd heard that the Laguna Beach chapter (which was ironic, considering the redhead's comment) had started making a LOT of money for their charity by selling tiny Legion insignia lapel pins – and had come across the fact that a lot of people wanted pins with the colors of their favorite Legionnaire; they were clearing serious sums by diving in on this.
The two young cadets were wearing her pins.
Quinn looked at the way the older cadet wore her hair up in a severe styling that held it into place. "With hair like that - I doubt it." She looked over at the two younger cadets. "Oh, yeah. I learned that if you want people to actually respect you for more than just being a higher rank than they are - maybe you should try to treat them better. Not yelling at them helps."
The cadet scoffed. "You? You – trying to talk to anyone about how to lead?"
All right. With that, you have all officially gone over the line. I don't care how petty it sounds – but if someone shows up at your house, you're supposed to at least treat your guests decently, right? Fine.
Every hair follicle of hair stood up on Quinn's body as electricity danced and splayed across her form; miniature spikes and arcs of blue-white lightning played across the tips of her perfect eyelashes and the tiny, nearly invisible hairs along her ears, fingers and nostrils as she took a step forward. Several female cadets who'd stopped for the entertainment took involuntary steps back as the Leader of the Legion turned up the power and yet kept it perfectly in control, glowing like a halogen lamp and not letting a single iota of power travel more than a millimeter from her body...
Quinn motioned to the cadets, and turned back to their harasser. "You should try that on me sometime."
The thick, tangy scent of ozone trailing behind her as she walked away with the electrical sheathing still burning around her form, Quinn didn't notice the wide-eyed looks of the two young cadets – or the thoughtful look that passed over the face of the redhead – as she walked towards the stairwell.
Martin saw the way Quinn marched out the doorway of Swedlund Hall – one of the two dormitories for Elite Academy cadets – and knew that she was in a bad mood. Yeah, I'd heard that people were giving her a hard time – and if they knew what I knew - what she's been through, so to speak – they'd cut her a very big break, as well as give her a lot of space. She's not the one to mess with.
"Morgendorffer!" Quinn turned, a scowl on her face as she saw the cadet walking towards her, and stopped to let him catch up. "You - you don't look happy."
Quinn visibly bit back a response, but then took several breaths before speaking. "You guys are not nice people."
"I'm sorry," he replied, sincerely enough so that Quinn's body language relaxed. "I'll speak to people about that. There's a lot of cadets who have a superior attitude, and if they read between the lines about you, your sister and your friends, they'd shut up and treat you better very quickly."
The smile that had conquered the young men of Lawndale returned, and Martin understood immediately another reason why a lot of people wanted to think the worst about Quinn Morgendorffer: Someone this pretty isn't supposed to be smart, or good at anything, or be as powerful as she is – or so some people want to think. Somehow, they've convinced themselves that it isn't fair that she gets so many advantages. Anyone who thinks that Quinn is Paris Hilton with a generator up her butt is going to be in for a rude awakening.
"I was actually coming to look for you. The Admiral and Colonel Armalin wanted all of you to meet in front of the Administration Building at oh-nine-hundred, and it's now four minutes past – I thought you'd gotten lost."
Quinn's smile went up another level of magnitude; surprisingly, Martin wasn't swayed, and a single thought went through his head: I bet Daria has a smile like that – and I wonder what it would be like if she smiled at me like-
For Martin Peters – and no other person in this reality - the world around him began to shift into a hue of red.
"Seventy-EIGHT! Seventy-NINE! EIGHTY! Eighty-ONE! Eighty-TWO!"
The Legionnaires and Colonel Armalin watched as the entire cadre of Phantom Eagles, all stripped down from their uniforms to just their underwear (all standard t-shirts and boxers, Sandi noted), did one-handed push-ups with their left hands (the other hand balled into a fist and placed in the small of the back on each Eagle) in the quad just before the Administration Building. "What's that all about?" Mack asked, noticing the look on Jane's face.
"I guess they believe that if one of them does something wrong, then they all have, so they all share the punishment," Jane said, feeling a twinge of sympathy as she saw Allison in the crowd, surprisingly managing to keep pace with the rest of the cadre. "One of them gave me a hard time in the cafeteria and the leader saw it. Guess he's hardcore, too."
Watching as Jason called out to his cadre, not slowing a bit or seeming to falter in voice or stride as he set the pace for them, the Colonel noticed how a single cadet also exercised just in front of Jason but outside the main group, and he nodded in agreement. Boy might grow up to be something worthwhile, someday.
"Glad that you decided to join us, Morgendorffer," he said, turning as he saw Quinn and Martin turn the corner of the Administration Building. "As Legion Leader, you're supposed to put on a better face for the others and your hosts."
"Sorry, sir," she said, jogging up to him. "Things happen."
"Right. They're waiting inside to start the testing."
"It's her inner Quinn," Daria smirked "Not waking up in her own plush boudoir slowed her down this morning."
Quinn faced her sister. "Colonel, can you have them test Daria first? The scientists are probably drooling at the chance to check her out – and speaking of drooling and checking things out, aren't there some other telepaths around here that you haven't made out with yet?"
Daria's head dropped as she flushed in absolute embarrassment; the three male Legionnaires suddenly found the grass, trees and sky to be incredibly breathtaking and stared away while the other female Legionnaires (save Jane, who somehow managed to keep from spilling over with laughter) openly gawked with wide-eyed surprise at their teammate.
Quinn wasn't finished; she turned to Martin and let her eyes sweep across him. "Still interested in my sis, soldier boy? I've seen how you look at her – don't worry, you've still got a shot. All the telepaths are only interested in her mind."
Armalin glanced from the younger Morgendorffer sister to the elder, and simply shook his head as Martin blushed the exact shame shade as Daria. "Kids. Everyone - get inside. They probably think I allow you people to slouch around and ignore schedules. So much for Marine Corps efficiency."
Martin held back, watching the Legionnaires as they followed Armalin into the building, and looked down at the small box that he had in his hands. You'll know when to give this to the Legionnaires, he recalled a voice telling him, but not yet. When they really need it.
"Cadet Peters!" Armalin's voice rang out, his tone informing Martin that he should follow along – quickly.
"Yes, sir!" he snapped off, not noticing the microscopic smile that went across the Marine colonel's face – a smile that was not lost on Quinn.
Well, look at that, she thought, as she also caught a glance at how Daria determinedly looked forward. The Colonel's using Fashion Club tactics. Daria doesn't stand a chance.
And the testing began...
"How much is she lifting now?" one scientist asked, looking through the transparent Adamantium shield window into one of the ultra-secure test areas inside The Chamber – the primary testing facility of the Academy. "They're taking bets on this kid."
A second scientist looked up from his console and glanced at the spot where Jane was using her magnetic powers to lift a large metallic cube that seemed to be pulled back to the floor by six flickering blue beams underneath. "Looks like she's finally breaking a sweat."
"She's up there with the big boys," another researcher observed. "Right now, she's lifting the equal mass of a trio of Queen Elizabeth II's – and she's got power to spare."
"Great. Get her some water, and then prep the Mark Three devices for the test on her shields. We'll start easy on her. Set the first device for a 5-kiloton detonation."
"Should we use a cobalt jacket on the device?" the third researcher asked, brushing her hair out of her face.
"No. We'll see if we can get her up to a one-megaton detonation. If she can contain that, I wouldn't worry too much about her shields' radiation tolerances," the first researcher said. "Get the modulator bands – before we do the blast tests, I want to find out about that time she got shot with the non-metallic pellets. That shouldn't have happened – her shields should have deflected even non-ferrous objects."
"Well, maybe she was just focusing on dispelling magnetic objects, instead of just raising her shields. Common mistake with magnetic-based metahumans who are novices in using their powers."
The first researcher nodded in agreement. "Probably. Get Lane her water, and let's get back to work."
The light inside the chamber that emanated from Mack Mackenzie would have instantly rendered any person seeing it unconscious, and probably temporarily blinded them as well. "He's up to seventeen million candelas," the technician monitoring the sensors called out. "Heat, light, flame generation – he's basically a miniature star, walking around in high-tops."
"Let's do another flame test again," the lead researcher said, flipping a switch that activated the speakers in the chamber. "Michael – we want you to show us a little more in terms of how much heat you can generate when you use your flame-generation ability. Go ahead and burn as hot as you can for as long as you can; don't hold anything back. That chamber can handle it."
"I'm just glad you guys had some fatigues I could borrow," the young man's voice came back. "I can't believe that I just vaporized my own clothes like that."
"They're specially treated to act like your body does when you use your powers," the lead researcher said, brushing a lock of hair away from her face. "Don't feel embarrassed, either. We've seen everything here."
A third female researcher made certain that the speakers were off before commenting, "Yes... but it doesn't usually look that good, and even when it does, regulations keep us from going near it."
The women all had a good laugh, one that was suddenly stilled as the monitors showed a massive spike in the ambient temperature and toxic contaminants inside the room! "It's incredible – he's consumed all of the breathable air in the room, but his body is producing all of the gases that he needs to breathe and use his powers at a massive rate!"
"I've got an idea," the third researcher said, and hit a button on her console; inside the chamber, a slight electric shock inside his outfit let Mack know that the researchers wanted him to stop. "Yes?" he asked, after the flames had died down in the area.
"We've noticed that you can generate oxygen in a vacuum to use your powers; you'd just consumed the breathable gases in the air, but your power allows you to generate oxygen as well to keep your flames going and prevent you from asphyxiation. It's just a wild guess, but you've also mentioned being able to fly – at first, the theory was that you were making yourself lighter than air by heating up the air in a finite space around your body, but if you're actually generating gases, you may be generating hydrogen as well. Like we said earlier – a miniature sun."
"Michael – we'd like to work on your gas-generating ability, and then, we're going to see if you can generate specific frequencies of visible light. You've shown the ability to generate heat, light and flames; perhaps as your ability matures and you learn more about it, you'll progress to generate more forms of stellar radiation along the electromagnetic spectrum: hard radiation in many forms, microwaves, radio waves, energies in the visible spectrum, as well as the various gases formed within a stellar mass, but independently of using your flame powers..." The woman's voice trailed off. "Michael, I think you've only begun to scratch the surface of your potential."
"Please, everyone just calls me Tom."
"All right, then, Tom. Now, this is going to be somewhat simple – to gauge your level of strength, we've come up with a number of simple and fun tests that most of our cadets with meta-levels of strength have told us they prefer, rather than simply lifting free weights or gravity bars," the elderly Black man in the lab coat told him as they walked into the chamber, where an arm-wrestling table was set up. "Don't worry – once the test begins, we'll activate an inertial stasis field in a sphere beginning two meters from the table. If something happens and you're flung away at super-speed, the field will capture you and instantly dampen your inertia, so you won't go flying into a wall."
"What about this?" Tom asked, holding up what seemed to be the only wire among the many leading to electrodes taped across the length of his body – he didn't exactly enjoy wearing only boxer shorts for the test, either – that didn't seem to be hooked to the monitors hooked to the belt around his waist. "What is this for?"
"That's connected to the 'wimp button'," a familiar voice said, and Tom sighed as Maryann Lyter, clad only in a sensible (albeit very tight) one-piece swimsuit (and the same number of electrodes as he wore), walked in just behind Tom and the researcher.
"Cadet Lyter – thank you for volunteering to assist today, but you know how we frown on non-technical terms being used for-"
"Yes, sir, I understand, I'm sorry," the cadet drawled, rolling her eyes once the researcher turned his back and attached the lead into a socket just beneath the table.
"Despite Cadet Lyter's colorful euphemism – the analogy for what this lead connects you to is correct, Tom," the man said. "If at any moment during the test you subconsciously feel that you're in real danger, your body will put off a specific series of neural impulses that you probably know from your studies in school as the 'fight or flight response'. If that happens, the testing system will immediately send out the proper neural response that will instantly activate what your body will construe as the specific counter to that response – in this case, to instantly activate your invulnerability."
"That also means that your super-strength goes bye-bye – and a second or two later, so do you," Maryann laughed pleasantly; Tom took that moment to notice that the swimsuit was very tight on her, and the color of Maryann's suit was a powder-blue that almost shaded into white - and left very little to a young man's imagination. "I won't laugh at you too loudly. We all go flying, sooner or later."
"I think that we're ready," the researcher said, walking briskly out of the area. "You can activate the field and begin when you're ready."
"Well, let's do it," Tom said, grasping one of the table grips in his left hand and bracing himself as he held out his right.
"Just remember, this is all about upper body strength – no tricks," Maryann said, aping his actions and holding out her hand. "Side bet on how long you last?"
"No." Tom figured out that the moment she walked in, dressed as she was, he was about to get the short end of the stick. Okay. Fine. I'll go down on my terms...
A voice from a speaker called out to the two young people. "Begin!"
Tom took Maryann's hand in his, flexed – and was actually surprised to find that Maryann's comment from the day before wasn't in jest. She was just like him; her strength easily matched his own as he exerted himself more and more-
"I thought that you were the STRONG one in the Legion," Maryann taunted, not showing a bit of strain as she increased her strength to match Tom's exertion; he noticed the incredible definition in her arm as neither gave even an inch on the arm-wrestling table. "Don't tell me that all of this is just for show..."
"It is for show," Tom said, smiling his best, brightest 'yes, milady, I am interested in you' smile at her, "and my girlfriend Jane has the only ticket. You know, while she does enjoy these arms and this chest, it's just the fanfare – the main attraction's downstairs."
Almost on instinct, Maryann's eyes flicked downward to the table – and an instant later, her scream filled the area as Tom flung her (accidentally) across the table and into the stasis field, where she hung upside-down in a very undignified manner!
"Bastard!" she snapped, but with a trace of respect in her voice; she'd realized what he'd done. "Tricky rich-boy bastard!"
"Thank you, Maryann," Tom said, smiling as he stood up and allowed her to get a better look at him than she had through the table with her 'omni-vision' (as she called her enhanced vision). "Didn't you think that I'd know what you'd try on me – or that I'd study up on you and your powers? You're right – you are just like me."
Maryann snarled off a particularly vile curse, and Tom waved his finger at her. "Keep that up, and I'll line my underwear with lead. While you're up there, get a good look at everything – and in full color, too. Hey, enjoy yourself."
"Okay - one to you," she allowed. "Would somebody turn this thing off, please?"
"Hey, I've had pretty girls on the hook since I was ten – you're just the strongest one in the bunch," he told her, turning back to the table and trying not to enjoy the THUMP that sounded behind him (well, not too much) as the stasis field was shut down. "Yep. That's another poor thing that's fallen for me."
"Stacy, we'd like for you to meet someone," the attractive Air Force captain, wearing a lab coat over her uniform, explained to Stacy as what appeared to be a cute, slender brunette in her early twenties walked out onto the floor of the testing area. "This is 'Cecilia' – Combat Evaluation/Conditional Infantry Liaison/Independent Android. She's going to be your sparring partner for this test."
"You said, 'android'," Stacy said, her eyes going wide as she stared at the willowy 'woman' standing next to the Air Force captain. "It's a robot? Will it hurt me?"
"I truly hate this stereotype," Cecilia sighed, and with a quick flick of her wrist, slapped Stacy hard enough to make her eyes widen more!
"Cecilia-!" the captain blurted out
"Just a moment!" Cecilia snapped, grabbing Stacy's right hand and putting it to her own neck. "Feel that? Warm flesh, pulsing blood, and I can feel the warmth and softness of your hand on my skin – does that sound like a 'robot' to you?"
"No – I guess not-"
"You GUESS not? Oh, let's just get this over with," the artificial life form scoffed, looking at Stacy with scorn in her crystal-blue eyes that clearly defined sentience. "I'm going to evaluate the level of your enhanced physical skills and the metahuman powers that you possess that augment those skills, as well as the current level of proficiency that you have in controlling those skills and powers in an aggressive, yet reasonably safe testing regimen of hand-to-hand combat. Do you understand what I'm saying, little girl?"
"I'm not a little girl – I'm seventeen!"
"Oh," Cecilia huffed, turning to the Air Force officer. "Captain Harriman, you should have told me that I was going to be in possible danger during this test. She's seventeen."
"Maybe I should run back to the outfitter section and grab some of that enhanced body armor. She's a real woman now. She might be too much for me to handle, and I could get hurt."
"Cecilia..." The captain put one hand to her forehead, as if trying to ward off a headache.
"Fine." Cecilia turned back to Stacy. "The 'Duh' translation. This is going to be a simple sparring session, and as we progress, I'm going to increase the threat level of my attacks to see if you can keep up. Also, as we progress, my attacks will involve more than just standard physical attacks – understand?"
"I think so."
"Newbies," she said. "Okay – for the people in the cheap seats. Ever seen The Matrix?"
Stacy's eyes lit up. "Oh, yes! I love that movie!"
"Yeah, yeah, they all do," Cecilia said, under her breath. "Let's make this simple. This room is the Construct. I'm Morpheus – yes, I KNOW that I'm a woman and he's a man, so I should be Trinity, but she was just a fighter. I'm an instructor, too. You're Neo."
The brunette's eyes were alight with expectation; Captain Harriman excused herself as Cecilia went slack in the way that great fighters seemed to before they went into hand-to-hand combat. "Let's begin. Hit me... if you can."
"They're having a lot of fun putting your friend Ruttheimer through hoops," Martin said, handing Daria a bottle of fruit juice as she looked up. "I don't think they've had this much fun – and I do mean fun – in a long time."
He took a look around the observation booth that overlooked the gymnasium-sized testing area where a group of visually giddy scientists were obviously cheering Charles Ruttheimer on to transform into different shapes, persons, and items, and turned back to Daria. "Was it just me, or did he change back from being a unicorn as I came in?"
"Quinn would have passed out if she'd seen that," Daria said, a little smile on her face as she took a sip from the bottle. "Not to mention how the rest of them would have freaked if they'd seen some of the people Charles turned into – he changed into a young Sean Connery, and one of the female researchers fainted when he turned around and smiled at her."
"From what I've seen, he could do that as just himself," Martin said, sitting in the seat one chair away from Daria – which she noticed with slight frown as he brushed something off his slacks.
"Trust me – that's new for him," Daria commented. "Two years ago, he'd have been trying desperately to get those girls to notice him... and they'd think that he was something that didn't just crawl out of a sewer, but exiled from it."
"I guess being in the Legion did a lot of good for him, then."
They were both quiet for a long
period, watching Charles turn into various objects and persons (an Aston Martin
DB5 sports car, a platypus, Farrah Fawcett, the Sword in the Stone, RoboCop, a
stop sign, a gas pump, a plasma-screen television that was the size of a mobile
home, and 'Iron Eyes' Cody) before Daria turned to Martin. "Would you please stop staring
at me? It's really making me uncomfortable."
Martin jumped slightly in his seat, and looked away. "I'm sorry. I'm just not sure what to talk about."
"So you have to stare at me instead? Why? Is a third eye showing on my forehead? Or have you developed x-ray vision and not told anybody yet?"
"Man, I wish I had X-ray vision sometimes, it would be-"
Martin blushed and swallowed hard as he saw the way Daria glared at him.
"Sorry. I wasn't staring at...those."
Daria sat back in her chair. "O.K. How did you end up playing babysitter for me? I heard that guy in the lab coat tell David Allen to come up here and wait with me while they were getting the test machines ready for me, not you."
"I traded with Farrington. I asked to do this, and he gets my spot on the New York trip this weekend."
"Why?" Daria felt she already knew the answer, but she wanted to hear him say it before she guessed it out loud.
"Because I get to play babysitter for you."
Daria sighed and closed her eyes. "Uh...Martin?"
"Well, Daria... I'll just be direct." Finally, he thought to himself, After all of this time of seeing her, and being afraid to talk to her, or go near her, and after all that I've seen of her with my powers...Well, pull pin and throw. 'Who dares, wins' - as the Brits say. "Are you seeing anyone? If not, I was thinking..."
"Martin, I know where you're going with this. But I don't know you and you don't know me. Besides, the Legionnaires are just guests here. We aren't going to be here that much longer."
The boy looked slightly crestfallen. "You already have a boyfriend." He snapped his fingers once. "Darn. That's just my luck."
"I didn't say I had a boyfriend."
"Then, I'm not quite what you're looking for, is that it?" His face fell further. "You really like Leda, then. I understand-"
"Will you stop that?" Daria stood up and moved in front of him. "If you keep putting yourself down, no girl will be interested in you. So stop it!"
His face registered shock briefly, and then he smiled. "Sorry. That did sound pathetic, didn't it?"
"It made you sound desperate. Don't try so hard." She moved to the door, looked out, and then glanced sideways at him. "You don't believe that - about Leda and me?"
Martin rolled his eyes. "Oh, please. Leda jumps at everything, just to get a reaction." He covered his eyes with his left hand. "She once slipped into my room, two years back; I'd turned on the shower and went down to Farrington's room to borrow some shampoo – when I came back, she was waiting in the shower for me." He shuddered. "The thought makes me skittish every time I remember it. I wouldn't look at her in the shower or anywhere else. It wasn't a bad sight at all, but I don't like being played with."
"Oh?" she asked. "Who would you rather watch in the shower?"
"Colonel Cooper," he said without hesitation, then suddenly slapped a hand over his mouth.
Daria laughed and smiled, despite herself. It's a pity that Jane wasn't here to hear this one. "That's an interesting confession. She's kind of young to be a Colonel... isn't she the Vice Commandant of the Academy?"
The cadet covered his eyes and nodded briefly.
"Does she know this?"
The boy then looked at her, horrified. "Are you nuts? If she didn't kill me first... no, she'd just kill me! If her husband was still alive, he'd kill me, too."
Daria decided to tease the cadet a bit. "A word of warning, Martin. If you find her in your shower, the steam will probably fog up everything and you won't see that much. You'll have to feel your way around."
The look on Martin's face reflected a slight bit of panic. "Please, don't tell anybody about this. You'll get me in trouble with everyone. They'll think I'm some sort of pervert."
"Don't worry," she said. "I'm teasing you."
He sighed in relief. "Daria, would you at least be willing to be my friend?" He held out his right hand.
She took the offered hand and they shook. "Sure – if you'll stop acting like a lovesick puppy every time you see me. My friends are having too much fun with that already."
"Tiffany, you're power is very interesting in that it operates on two levels; first, you're capable of the standard phasing ability in that your molecules naturally align with the materials of the matter you're walking through, but without causing any transitory electrostatic disruptions of the matter – in other words, you can pass through machinery and electronics without disrupting them."
The attractive Asian girl looked at the Marine Corps major in the lab coat, then around at the four other Marines dressed like him. "Ohhhhhh," she half-spoke, half-breathed the word. "Is... that... a... good... thing...?"
"Yes, Tiffany – it is a good thing," he continued. "The second part of your power is even more interesting; it seems that when it comes to allowing non-physical attacks to pass through – gas, flame and energy – your body actually shifts itself fractionally out of this dimension, so you're not-"
The major turned away from Tiffany, who absentmindedly looked at the nails on her left hand as the major counted to ten, then crossed himself and said a quick, silent prayer for strength before turning back. "Let's continue by seeing if the molecular density of an object has any effect on your ability, or if – as I suspect – you go into molecular to inter-dimensional phase when you encounter materials with incredibly dense molecular structures, like Adamantium and Promethium. We'll also test to see if metals with unusual molecular structures, like the various forms of Vibranium and Salazarium, have any affect on your power."
They jacked Armalin out of his Medal of Honor, the Marine major thought, controlling his innate impulse to slap the girl silly, or just run screaming out of the area towards the nearest weapons locker and grab the first assault rifle he laid eyes upon, but if he's been able to work with a girl like this for almost a year on a daily basis and not only restrain himself from grabbing a machete and taking her head off, but also teach her things... the man deserves the Medal of Honor for this alone.
"All right, bring that two-inch slab of Secondary Adamantium up, and we'll also try out the one-inch sheet of Salazarium as well."
"You're doing a great job, Brittany!"
Even though the slight feeling of jealousy was unanimous throughout the female researchers in the area (who all experienced that jealous twinge every time Brittany, happy that the researchers were pleased with her results, squealed and bounced in place) they were all happy to be working with such a pleasant, happy teenager... even with the way she bounced drawing the attention of every man in the room - even the lead researcher, a man who happened to be gay. "So I did it?"
"Yes, you did," the lead researcher responded. "So far, it seems that your invisibility extends further across the electromagnetic spectrum than we first believed - which means that you can't be seen by the naked eye or by cameras and infrared detectors."
"Really?" Brittany had no idea what the man said, but he was very nice, spoke to her kindly and tried not to stare too hard when her breasts bounced (I know he's gay, but he's still nice, and what does that matter anyway? Daria and Jane were before she started dating Tom and they're nice – well, Jane is, and now that Daria's met that girl with the big green eyes, maybe she'll be nicer, too!), so it must be a good thing!
"Yes. Now, your invisibility field expands out to allow you to make your clothes disappear, and you've already learned to make anything you touch go invisible – basically, you're expanding your field so that it radiates outward through the molecules of the object. You're actually quite powerful, so the radius of what you can make invisible should be quite large..." The lead researcher looked up from his notes to see a slightly befuddled look on Brittany's face. "Yes, Brittany?"
The attractive teenager twirled a lock of her butter-blonde hair around a finger on her left hand; she looked up at the researcher with big, wide, confused eyes. "I don't understand..."
The man's heart went out to Brittany. "That's okay, Brittany – and it's honest. If you don't understand something – anything – that we're telling you, just say so. We're here to help you, all right?"
Brittany's face brightened. "Okay!"
The lead researcher smiled at her. "Okay. What I'm going to do is get some things in here, and we're going to let you see if you can make them invisible. As we go on, the things will get bigger and bigger, so it might take a bit more work for you, all right? You might have to concentrate a bit more with the bigger things, but we'll take it slow and easy, and remember – this is a test, but it's not a 'test', all right? You can't fail, so if things don't seem to work like you want, it's still a good thing, because that means we've found out just what you can and you can't do, okay?"
"All right." The lead researcher turned to one of his assistants. "Roll that Stryker armored transport in here, and tell the security guys in the main hanger to clear the area around the C-17. We'll be up there in about twenty minutes."
Quinn was a little surprised by the size of the testing area that the very handsome Navy captain in the lab coat, followed by a trio of equally handsome civilian researchers, led her into. Lengthwise, it was easily over five times the length of an indoor football stadium, twice as wide, and had eight other large entranceways leading inside – four of them seemingly large enough to drive small airliners through. They've got the space here – Gawd, this is so big, it echoes as we walk around!
"This is Zero Area – the main testing area for the Academy campus," the Captain said, and Quinn actually felt herself with a tiny (okay, MORE than just tiny! - she admitted to herself) fluttering in her chest every time he looked at her. "This is where we test the cadets who have the high-level powers – powers that might cause damage if they were tested anywhere else. Here, they can cut loose without worry of anyone accidentally getting hurt."
Walking several feet away from the cavernous entrance and deeper into the huge artificial canyon that was Zero Area, Quinn turned back to the Captain when a flash of light made her look up – and she saw the faces of numerous cadets looking down at her from the huge observation gallery thirty feet up! "Why are they all up there?"
"Well, Miss Morgendorffer – apparently, you've got more than your share of fans and admirers here, and they want to see just what you can do."
"More like people who don't like me, and want to see me fall on my face."
"I'm sure that there are more than a few of those up there as well," the Captain told her, and Quinn looked back at him with a touch of respect. "You wouldn't want me to lie to you, or treat you as though you were... well, what a lot of them think you are."
The Captain pulled a small earpiece out of his pocket and inserted it into his right ear, adjusting it so that the thin microphone lead extended out; he then handed another to Quinn and watched as she placed it as he had. "Outstanding, Miss Morgendorffer. Today, we're going to go easy – just some basic electrical generation and manipulation; gauging your upper levels, how much you can generate, and how well you can manipulate the various forms that you can output. Don't worry about trying to show those cadets up – the fact that they're so interested in seeing you fail means that you've already beaten them."
Quinn nodded, and the Captain walked away, followed by the others. Several seconds later, the lights in the entire area were activated, and Quinn then saw just how big Zero Area really was...
"Oh, my God."
A bad feeling at the base of her neck (one gained through long years in the battles for social domination at the schools she'd attended) made Quinn turn around and look up; she saw the redhead from earlier, the one who was harassing the younger girls, looking down at her with undisguised disdain.
A slight crackling of sound in her ear made Quinn's head bob up. "All right, Miss Morgendorffer – let's start the magic. We'll begin with simple AC generation – let's see how much power you can put off to power other devices."
As the Captain's voice came through loud and clear, a large, metal column with several handholds rose up from the floor. "This is going to be simple," the Captain continued. "Just grab onto any two handholds, and when I give you the signal, I want you to concentrate on putting out as high of a level of electricity as you can – but only in AC; we know that you've been working on generating various forms of electrical output."
"Ready when you are," she said, grasping two handholds.
The column instantly began to glow with an intense blue-white color as Quinn began to channel her power through the handholds; seconds later, the column began to blister, and before long, thin wisps of smoke began to rise from the discoloring spots on the surface. "Back it down, Morgendorffer!" the Captain's voice came through, prompting her to stop. "Not bad at all – you could power a small state if you wanted!"
The obvious admiration in the man's voice made Quinn smile; she turned to look back up at the redhead, who made a funny face at her. "Okay, Morgendorffer – now, a bit of the fun stuff. See those targets rising up on the other end of the area?"
The redhead watched as, roughly more than five hundred yards away, seven large 'bulls-eye' targets rose from the ground, each the size of a garage door. "Basic target practice. Let's just see how good your aim is, as well as your control of your lightning output. Go!"
Before the word left his lips, six blue-white lightning bolts leapt from Quinn's body to spear directly through the center of the three targets to the right and left – converged to slice the center target apart along the lines of the circles... and then, punched though the center before it fell to the ground. "Oh, I'm sorry – did you want me to hit them one at a time?" she said, her voice oozing sugar and girlish charm. "Did you want me to point my finger at them? Oh, I don't know what's wrong with me, I just don't know how to follow instructions, I am just such a nitwit..."
Turning around to look up at the redhead, Quinn noted – with satisfaction – that the girl was nursing a look that was somewhere between disbelief and shell shock. Reality. It is a bitch, eh, boss lady?
"Not bad, Morgendorffer. Got any more little tricks that you'd like to show us before we get back to the testing regimen?"
"Well, now that you mention it..."
The cameras in the Zero Area observation gallery were rated to survive a multitude of effects – natural, man-made, and metahuman.
Camera #11 – situated directly beneath the observation gallery, had been set for a wide-angle shot of the area, and was also the camera which had its feed also directed into one of the three wide-screen television sets on the gallery wall. From that camera came the images that most of the cadets would remember.
First, the screen went white – but not a shade that any of them had ever seen before. It was a white that made blood go cold, a white that was seen only in horror movies...
It was what some people referred to as death light.
From within the light came another pulsing shade of luminosity; a human form composed of light – no, of electricity, a blistering corona of bluish-white that burned and ionized the air around the human figure inside... a figure that seemed to be a fusion of matter and energy sliding and moving together in perfect alignment, strengthening one another-
The female figure hovered above a perfect depression that seemed to be scooped out of the metal floor of the test area, a depression about three feet deep and fifteen feet across, as if a sphere of energy had flared into violent life and atomized the material, leaving that depression – which even now, was beginning to bubble and snap as it began not to melt, but burn.
The figure then did something that was incredibly peculiar; as she hovered in the air within what seemed to be a sphere of searing electrical force, she took her right arm and whipped it around and across the front of her body at waist level, then around to her back, as far as she could reach, and then whipped her arm forward as hard as she could!
A single, incredibly thin strand of electrical energy, no thicker than a thread, perhaps far, far thinner, more like a microfilament of light than an electrical blast, splayed away from the figure's right hand, flashing downrange and simply disappearing before it passed the halfway point...
A massive explosion erupted at the halfway point of the area, shaking the area like a giant with a new toy; a series of explosions followed, one after another, each one seeming to build upon the other, each one growing in intensity and shaking the area as if an earthquake was happening, one violent, cataclysmic detonation after another-
It was over. The explosions stopped, the seismic tremors lessened and then ceased, and emergency sirens went off all throughout the area.
Camera #19, located inside the gallery, recorded how the gallery windows imploded with what was later determined to be the sixth of thirty-eight explosions, ranging in magnitude from 580 tons of TNT (the first detonation) to 0.8 megatons (the last explosion, which struck the wall at the opposite end of the area). Emergency forcefields had immediately deployed, protecting the people inside... and the figure inside the sphere of electrical force was unscathed, with the sphere unmoved by the multiple explosions.
The screams of people were recorded, as well as the shouted orders of researchers and the on-site emergency response team (one of many always on hand in case of problems), as well as one young female cadet who hysterically screamed 'She nuked us! She nuked us!"
The camera also recorded a young Latino cadet who made his way to his feet and, after looking out one of the shattered windows, called out at the top of his voice, "Damn! 'Little Q' in DA HOUSE-!"
"You always have to do something to get a little more attention, don't you?"
"Oh, Daria. It's not as if they can't repair the place. That's what Mom and Dad's tax dollars are there for!"
A sigh from the elder Morgendorffer sister cut through the silence. "You couldn't just zap the targets, and make some puppies and horsies out of electricity for them, could you?"
"Gawd, Daria, its not that bad. After lunch, all you have to do now is think at them!"
Quinn looked up from her pizza – today, I splurge, she thought, and had a slice of the cheese and pepperoni – and smiled a glorious smile at a trio of burly male cadets who passed by the table. "Righteous damage, 'Little Q!'" one of the cadets barked out as she nodded in response, making Daria shake her head in disbelief.
"You act out, reach 4.1 on the Richter scale, and suddenly, everyone likes you or is afraid of you. It's like we never left Lawndale High."
"Oh, it's a little different – after all, I don't kiss until the fifth date and I've never used tongue!"
"And once again, the natural order of things is restored."
The Morgendorffer sisters both turned their heads and glared at Jane, who had sat silently beside Daria and devoured a large chunk of the best beef roast she'd had in quite a while – a true compliment, considering the quality of the food the Legionnaires dined on. "What?" she asked, spearing a tiny baby potato and a thick mushroom slice with her fork before popping them into her mouth. "Mmmmm. That was good. Anyway, it wouldn't be the same if you two weren't snipping about something!"
"Hello, ladies," Martin said, a tray in hand as he walked up to their table. "Mind a little extra company?"
"Sure!" Quinn piped up, and Martin sat down in the chair she pulled out for him – right next to her – earning her another glare from Daria, which she responded to with a wrinkling of her nose. "So, you're the leader around here, right?"
"Uhhhh... yes," he answered warily, understanding on some level that he'd just walked right into some sort of trap, but not having any idea of what kind or why. "By the way... Quinn... just wanted to let you know that they're talking about you on the news. The U.S. Geological Survey is saying that the New Madrid fault line caused the minor earthquake. Your first time doing massive property damage?"
"Well, I did trash an entire level of Legion Tower and flash-fry a sorcerer who had the hots for me – but he came back to life and fixed everything good as new, so I guess that doesn't count." Quinn's eyes flicked over towards Daria, and a mischievous gleam filled her eye. "So, tell us about yourself! Where did you get that accent?"
"West Virginia," he said, sipping from his glass of milk. "Carthage, West Virginia. It's a tiny little town, more or less – but we do have the Andrews distillery, and they put a lot of money into the town. Ever seen Doc Hollywood? Welcome to Carthage."
"A moment ago, you said something about 'doing property damage'," Jane said, changing the subject and annoying Quinn. "Other kids have nuked the place?"
"Only two – Farrington, and a second-year named Cockrum. Tiny blonde – hey, you know her, don't you?" Martin replied. "I heard that you were talking to her before that jackass Feltson cut in. Anyway, one of the things she can do is generate a tiny magnetic field and somehow – they don't know how – she can convert the materials in the air inside to anti-matter, so when she fires it off at somebody..." He held his hands together, and then slowly brought them apart. "B... O... O... M. It looks like she's launching a quantum torpedo from Star Trek when she does it, so people call them her-"
"That's what Leda was talking about when she said 'I had to see her torpedoes?'" Jane's eyes were wide as memory swept over her. "Oh! That's what she meant!"
"Yeah – what did you think she was talking about?"
"Well, you know – I thought – I mean, Allison's kind of, well, she's really – you've seen her – I thought Leda was saying – well, you know Leda better than I do, don't you?"
Martin was trying not to snicker as the Morgendorffer sisters looked on, confused. "Jane," Daria asked, "What the hell are you talking about?"
"What she's trying to say is that, ah, to be polite, that Cadet Cockrum is, well, shall we say-" Martin was spared further attempts at description by the arrival of Allison at the doors of the cafeteria, staying outside and waving as she tried to catch Jane's attention. "Oh, there she is. That's Cadet Cockrum."
"Oh," Quinn said, immediately noticing the size of her bust. "She looks like she'd give Brittany a run for her money. You said she's got magnetic powers, too? Good. With a set like that, she'll need her own magnetic field to lower the effect of the Earth's gravity on her and keep those boys floating like UFO's."
Three cool, yet slightly surprised gazes fixed on Quinn, who brushed them off. "Oh, please," she said, snorting at Daria. "You're just surprised that I could say something smart and catty at the same time. It's a gift." She rose up, and waved the young cadet inside. "You don't mind if she has lunch with me and Jane, do you, Cadet Commander Peters? She can tell us all about the school from the cute, powerful point of view, and you can tell Daria all about that tiny little town of yours. Maybe, you can talk her into letting you give her a tour of the place – and you can show her all of your special hideaways where you take your girlfriends..."
Happy laughter flowing behind her as she went over to meet Allison, Jane shook her head as she picked up her tray and followed along. "I'd better go and watch over the government's investment," she said, winking at Daria. "Don't do anything I wouldn't do, amiga – well, you haven't gotten close yet!"
Daria blushed as Jane scampered off, and Martin looked her over before he spoke. "Are they always like that?"
"Actually, Quinn's being incredibly cordial – for Quinn. In her twisted little mind, that means that she thinks you're okay, and its all right if you try and get on my good side."
"That's some kind of sister-language you two have."
"Honed through a lifetime of wallowing through the rivers of the Fashion Underworld," Daria shot back. "She is my sister, though. I'd miss her if she wasn't around."
"I know," Martin said without thinking, and Daria looked at him curiously. "I mean, it just seems like you two snipe at one another because you're not the types to do all of that hugging and kissing stuff."
"Okay," she replied. "Back to you and your big origin story. How'd you end up here?"
"Well, I ended up coming here when I was fourteen. Silly story... you remember how you found out about your powers?"
"With me, it turns out that I actually had my powers a couple of years before I really knew it," he told Daria. "Ever seen the movie Logan's Run?"
"Yeah, long ago."
"Ever seen Logan's Sanctuary?"
Daria's right eyebrow rose. "No. It doesn't exist. Somebody made a soundtrack to that, but it's a fictional sequel – I read about that once."
"No, it isn't." Martin smiled at Daria, and something inside her suddenly went very, very warm... "Want to come over to the commons area and see it? It'll also let you see what I can do."
To her great surprise, Daria heard the word, 'Okay' come from her own mouth; at another table, Jane and Quinn watched as Martin and Daria rose from their table and headed for the exit. "Oh, look, our little girl's becoming a woman," Jane smirked, noticing how Daria seemed to walk a touch closer to Martin than she apparently realized.
"Jane, we must let her go. She has to spread her wings and fly, or, whatever." Quinn finished her pizza, and turned back to Allison. "So, really, you've never been on a date? Come on – there HAVE to be some cute and rich boys around here in the city, and even wearing THAT thing, you should be able to attract all of the good ones!"