LLH 12.5 – 'Two Tribes'
I ended up at the Academy when I was twelve because of an old laptop that I tricked out with my powers and gave to my brother for his college going-away present. (This wasn't anything unusual. I'd been fixing electronics and mechanicals since I was seven, and doubling my family's income since I was nine.) When he was downloading – legally – a video, the laptop's A.I. decided to find a better copy of the video.
Long story short – someone along the way figured out that a metahuman had pulled it off, and tracked it back to me. I had to promise that I wouldn't build anything else that powerful or dangerous for anyone outside the government anymore - and that I'd fix all the electronics at the research lab that the A.I. infiltrated. (I did that the first summer break, and have been a summer intern at the lab ever since. They made it a paid internship when I turned sixteen, which helped my family a lot.)
Why bring this up? Well, cadets tend to fall into two general categories. There are the gung-ho types, who can't want to join the military, or fight crime as super-cops. In short, they want to join the system, and make the world a better place. Then there are the kids who can't want to fulfill their obligations so they can go sell their skills on the open market and get filthy, stinking rich. I tend to fall into the latter category. I have nothing against saving the world, but my family comes first.
There are plenty of recruiters on both sides selling dreams of glory. In my last year at the Academy, I had over three hundred private companies, and at least forty government agencies, trying to get me to sign a contract. And this was for six years down the road, when my Federal Service obligation was completed. That many handsome men begging for your attention... well, a girl's head could get turned.
Training Cadre 2996 – 'The Alliance' – was different, though. The cadets in 2996 had all come in the same year I did, but were assigned to a different cadre. They didn't want government service, they didn't want private sector. They wanted to be superheroes.
When the Legionnaires showed up, I knew what was coming. I was hardly surprised when Julia (Carlyle) came back to the room, got out of uniform, and pulled out that jacket.
- from Inside The Tower, by K.M. Sherrie
"There's a really cute little show on a kids' cable channel I saw, called Tales of Young Daria," Martin said, going to the vending machine and getting two bottles of water. "From searching the inter-dimensional channels, I found out that it's an award-winner – really sweet, and the kids love it... did you actually trick your sister into eating hot dog water for lunch by slicing up a baby potato in it, and making her think that it was a special fancy Russian soup that was too good for her to appreciate?"
Daria laughed. "You got that one wrong," she said, accepting the bottled water and taking the top off. "It was a couple of dried-up green onions, and I told her it was French soup."
Martin laughed until tears actually ran from his eyes. "God! That's so -"
"Mean," Quinn huffed from the doorway; Martin and Daria both jumped at the sound of her voice. "That was hot dog water? I always wondered why they looked at me funny at Chez Pierre when I asked if it was a special dish, because it wasn't on the menu! Somebody somewhere made a TV SHOW about it? Daria-"
"The statute of limitations has expired. You can't say a thing," Daria said, rising from the couch. "In the meanwhile, what are you doing snooping around?"
"I'm NOT snooping – everybody was wondering where you had gone, because you were supposed to do your test session an hour and a half ago! People have been looking all over for you – even your Psychic Friends Network couldn't find you, so they were wondering what you were doing that could block out their trying to find you-"
"This is a 'hard-shell' lounge," Martin said, stepping in as he saw the furious blush on Daria's face and the look of victory in her sister's eyes. "All of the dorms, and a number of areas on the campus – including here – were designed to prevent surveillance equipment and powers that act in the same fashion from reading anyone inside; that way, people can have places where they can have some measure of privacy on occasion. Leda, David Allen and the other telepaths know that – they just wanted to give you an excuse to come and catch us – I mean, find us..."
"Oh," Quinn said; Martin standing close to Daria, almost like a protector, made her smirk. He's got it so bad for her, she doesn't mind at all, and neither of them realizes it yet..."In any case, they're looking for you for that, and some papers they want us to look at. Some cute legal guy's waiting for us."
"Cute legal guy with papers?" The alarm in Daria's voice was almost tangible. "Quinn, tell me that nobody signed anything-"
"Gawd, Daria, do you think that I came down with the last train of milk, or whatever? Nobody signed anything – and I've got it all under control?"
"You've got everything under control?" Daria rolled her eyes as she walked past Quinn. "This is something I've got to see."
Martin shrugged as he started past Quinn, but a slender arm blocked his path. "You like her, and she might like you," the tiny redhead said, looking up into his eyes. "Whatever... but if you ever hurt my sister – I'll fry you alive."
The tone of absolute calm about Quinn as she spoke, then turned and left the lounge without a backward glance, made Martin pause in thought – until the tiny, carrot-topped arch-demon disappeared as Quinn, the flighty, fashion-obsessed, boy-crazy teenage girl with bouncy hair (and it unnerved Martin to see how she could flip back and forth between the two at the blink of an eye) bounced back into the doorway. "Oh, and you WILL be showing me some of the shows from other realities with me in them, won't you? Is there a reality where the Fashion Channel does a reality series on the Lawndale Fashion Club – you know, where the school doesn't blow up and everything – I just HAVE to see that! Thanks! Gotta go!"
Martin stood silently in the cadet lounge for a long time, alone and lost in thought.
"So, Graham – what's this big, big, ultra-secret, super-mega-chocolate-and-sprinkles-covered idea you've been working on?"
"You wouldn't understand if I told you."
"Oh, but you could tell me anyway... couldn't you?"
Graham looked up from his laptop to see the exotic face of Lara Carpenter, the Irish-Chinese girl who'd been a friend of his since he'd enrolled at Grove Hills (well, 'friend' was probably too strong a word). She was smart enough to talk to and actually hang around with– and now, it was too easy to get her into bed
Of course, he'd become the single best student at Grove Hills overnight.
I like the way the world's turning, he thought, and simply ignored Lara as he returned to work. This idea for nanites should be finished in a few days, and when it is... it'll make me a billionaire overnight.
"I really don't understand what the problem is," the handsome naval Lieutenant Commander said, managing to remain calm as the Legionnaires – minus Sandi, Quinn and Daria – sat in a conference room and looked at the forms in the manila folders placed before each of them. "These are just a formality – they're permission forms for us to send you through the Special Powers initial testing regimen – and it's almost negligent that someone didn't have all of you sign off on this beforehand! Now, look – if you'd just all sign where I've marked off for you-"
"Our Leader said 'No' – and what she said goes," Tom said. This guy acts like he could work for my family. "Commander Fuller, I understand how you feel, but we have to follow a chain of command, also."
"You've in a social club, with the exception that you have powers. No one's forcing you to do anything; it's not as if you have to swear an oath or anything –"
"Actually, we do have a Constitution, with rules of conduct and all of those fun little things that make meetings boring." The way the officer's eyes raised as he looked Tom over – and suddenly realized who the boy was – made Tom sigh. "Yes. Young Master Thomas knows his way around lawyers."
The naval officer looked as if he wanted to smash his own head into the wall; to keep Jane from commenting on Brittany's remark, Tom kissed her just as the Morgendorffer sisters walked into the room. "Everywhere you look lately, the plain and unfashionable girls have the hot guys," Quinn yawned. "I'd be really bummed out about it, if I wasn't a totally cute and powerful superhero that could power up half the planet."
"You must be the other Miss Morgendorffer," the officer said, extending his hand to Daria. "Lieutenant Commander Neil Fuller – Academy Legal Affairs vice council. I came down an hour ago to get all of you to sign these release forms for your group to go through the Academy's testing process, as well as non-disclosure forms concerning anything that you see here, and release forms that will allow us to keep copies of all of the research information gathered during your tests."
He opened his attaché case, took out a folder identical to the ones the other Legionnaires had before them on the conference table, and started pointing out the various forms. "We also need you to sign these liability waivers that say that you won't sue us in case of an accident during the testing procedures, as well as this permission form that states that, in case of an accident, you authorize us to allow use of the specialized medical facilities and units on the Academy grounds in order to perform emergency medical care and any long-term care in case of extraordinary injuries that you may suffer. Don't worry – as you've probably seen, we have psychic and bio-healers both on the Academy medical staff and in the cadet population, and they're all highly trained and capable of saving lives."
Daria looked up at him. "We also need you to sign the 12-41B special dispensation form that will allow for you to be tested, processed through all initial physical and special powers testing, categorization and acclimation procedures, as well as being billeted and fed on Academy grounds during your stay at no cost to you personally or to the Quest Corporation. They should have had you all fill these forms out before you even got here!"
Daria and Quinn glanced over at one another; they turned to Jane, who stared daggers at Fuller. "How long before she gets here?" Jane asked.
Quinn yawned. "Any minute now."
As they spoke, the door to the conference room opened and Helen Morgendorffer strolled in, Dawn Hall following just behind. "Hello... Lieutenant Commander. I'm Helen Morgendorffer – acting legal council for the Legion. I understand that you have some forms that you're insisting the members of the Legion fill out?"
After only several seconds of skimming through the forms, Helen's eyes went livid, and she turned to Dawn. "Go find Colonel Armalin. I want to talk to him."
Fuller winced as Dawn skewered him with her gaze before leaving the room. Damn, I hope Sharon bought another bottle. I'm really going to need a drink when I get home.
As the officer slid into a chair and began to fume, Daria turned to her sister - who sat in her chair with a look of supreme satisfaction – and gave her a rare, pleasant smile. "Your idea? Nice work."
Sitting in a classroom with about sixty cadets, Sandi Griffin was finishing up a test that the Colonel had asked her to take.
She looked up from the test booklet, and shrugged as she saw how hard some of the cadets were concentrating on their sheets. It's not so hard; I just remembered the stuff that the Colonel taught me – and most of this was stuff we've had to study anyway... people think that we have it easy, being in the Legion – they don't know about the six hours daily we have to study. "You either go to church services on Sunday, or you're going to study – and since Brittany's the only one who's ever come to me about going, she's the only one excused from Sunday classes. Now get back to work!" The school didn't get blown up – it just moved to Legion Tower and calls itself Sergeant Nemec. Well, at least I know all of this stuff...
The Wickenburg Incident was directly responsible for the creation of what government agency? That's easy – DELPHI, where the Colonel used to work.
What is Executive Order 12-12865? That's the order President Truman signed in May of 1948 that created DELPHI.
The 1948 Barcelona Accords and the 2000-level articles of Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter were made obsolete by what legislation? The Bowman Acts – the laws written by Senator James Bowman from 1981 to 1985 that deal with people with powers.
What is BTA? One of the unofficial names for Article Nine, Section Ten of the Bowman Metahuman and Extraterrestrial Affairs Act of 1982, which regulates telepaths. It stands for 'Bowman's Telepath Act'.
Name any five of the known extraterrestrial races. (Extra Credit: 1 Point for each additional race.) Hmmmn... I'm not supposed to know about that kind of stuff. Okay.
She scribbled down several names. That's enough – people will think that I'm showing off... With a smirk, she wrote in one more word. Oh, yeah. And then, there's Mogo. He doesn't socialize. The Corps isn't allowed on Earth, anyway.
Sandi closed the test booklet and stood up; several cadets watched as she handed in her booklet and pencils to the room monitor, and left.
Sherrie – Quinn's temporary roommate – was walking back from class with several female cadets when they rounded the corner of the Administration Building – and saw
a crowd of cadets gathered across from the Gridrunner – the Legion's personal craft - neatly landed upon the grassy area in front of the building. "That's what you get when you have instant access to billions of dollars," a tiny Black female cadet sighed, looking the jet over.
Sherrie couldn't help but take a deep breath as she saw Trent step from the undercarriage stairwell of the transport. "Oh, God. Now, that... is what a man is supposed to look like."
"Oh, yeah," a slim girl with striking Native American features and luminous bronzed skin agreed, looking Trent over as they stopped near the 'eternal flame' monument at the front of the building. "Free-range hotties who aren't held back by Academy rules and the honor code, so their hands roam all over. If anyone thinks those Legion girls don't have a good deal now, they're deluded."
"God, I could use his chest as my raft the next time I have a water survival test," another female cadet purred, running her eyes over Trent as he walked underneath the belly of the Legion craft and sipped at a bottle of water. "He's so slender, but still - he's so defined..."
A third female cadet, one of the Phantom Eagles, smiled and made a tiny gesture with her right hand; a torrent of water suddenly sprayed out of the bottle Trent held – more water than the bottle could have ever held – and drenched him thoroughly! "Oh, man," he said, peeling off his shirt and wring it out, to the sudden gasping of every female cadet in sight. "How did that happen?"
Sponging off his face as he walked out from under the plane, Trent suddenly found himself surrounded by several of the young women. "I can help you with that, if you don't mind," a flame-haired female cadet told him, her voice holding a Texas accent as she took the shirt from his hands.
Trent gave the young woman a smile that almost unlocked her knees; only years of training kept her from turning the shirt she held into vapor as she drew the water, dirt and other contaminants from the fabric, then turned and sprayed the excess fluid from her fingertips across the grass. "Here you go," she said, handing the warm, dry shirt back to him. "Fresh as momma's Saturday-morning laundry."
"Thanks," he said, holding the shirt up to his nose; his eyes widened as he sniffed. "Hey - you actually cleaned it."
"I'm great with laundry... or with anything that could use a little bit of hot water running all over it," the female cadet from Texas said, somehow not letting go of the shirt yet. "I'm Beatrice - and you're Trent, right? You're Jane Lane's brother - God, you're so choice..."
"Slut alert, already," a tall brunette with large, intense dark eyes huffed, stepping between Trent and Beatrice. "Hi. I'm Halley – like the comet? Nice to meet you, too. Look – instead of you just standing around – and trust me, I don't have any problem with that – why don't you let me show you around our campus? You work with the Legion – they wouldn't have let you come here if you didn't already know what we do here – so why don't we show you a little more?"
"I'm Kalea, and I've read all about you – being a musician and everything – why don't we take you over to The Club?" another female cadet cut in – this one with exotic Hawaiian features and long raven hair tied back into a single, heavy plait that fell over her right shoulder. "It's after three, and I'm finished with my classes for the day, so maybe you could play something for me – I mean, all of us?"
"Excuse me, ladies," Sherrie snapped, stepping up to Trent and taking him by the right forearm. "Control yourselves. The Legion's commander asked me to escort Mister Lane to him – immediately. They have business to attend to. He can spend time with you girls later – right?"
Trent became suddenly very self-conscious of the large crowd of young women all around him; a little voice in his head said please, do not be stupid as he looked around at the sea of faces – especially Sherrie, who actually had cute eyes, and was slowly running her fingers up his arm in a slow manner that almost made him forget how to walk...
Sherrie smiled as she led him off through a sea of girls – most annoyed, but a few who had an idea of what was happening. "Hey, thanks," he spoke up, rounding the corner with Sherrie moments later. "Hey – what business?"
The young woman's eyes shone as she ran the fingers of her left hand over his upper arm once again. "Oh – I'm sure we can find a name for it, soon enough."
Trent sighed, and let himself be led away. Girls are going to act like girls, wherever you go.
"This is interesting – you're saying that Blum-Deckler's phasing ability is actually two separate but similar abilities?"
"That's correct, Colonel Armalin," the Marine officer told him, showing him footage of Tiffany on a large table with a computer display that took up the majority of the area, like a giant plasma screen. "Now, what you have to understand is that her first phasing ability is biophysical in nature, and operates by allowing her molecules to align with any solid matter she comes in contact with. This ability operates on an instinctive level, but it has a number of drawbacks. It doesn't take her entire body out of phase – her feet maintain a molecule-thick layer of normal solidity, so it's possible for her to be affected by the most simple of attacks from the ground."
"That's not good."
"It gets better. Going into molecular phase won't protect her from 'exotic' attacks – energy, sonics, radiation, psionics, gases, viral agents – basically, she can weather solid attacks and run through objects, but run a simple electrical charge through the wall and she's done for the day. Also, she can't go through materials with unusual molecular structures – either very dense and/or stable, like Adamantium."
"In M-phase, she won't be able to breathe when she runs through larger masses – she'll need to hold her breath. If she doesn't – well, imaging having to breathe when you're a thousand feet down."
"Let's get to 'good news".
"That, I have in spades," the Marine officer continued. "What we discovered is that her second ability acts as a 'safety net' for the first – and in doing so, is actually the more profound ability. Tiffany also has the psionic ability to generate an energy field that shifts everything within that field, including herself, fractionally out of sync with this dimension – and while she's inside that field, she's not only capable of moving through anything, she's effectively invulnerable to all forms of attack, except mental and emotional."
"Not bad," Armalin observed. "I can get her started on the mental defense training techniques."
"It gets better, Colonel. First, with training and practice, she should be able to project the interdimensional phasing field outwards for a number of effects – we're thinking that she should first be able to create a wider sphere of effect that will protect everything inside, not to mention that she should be able to selectively alter the field to put specific objects inside back into normal space... the tip of a rifle or tank barrel, the edge of a blade – you get the idea."
"That definitely puts her back into play," Armalin mused. "We were thinking about using her primarily for infiltration, but this means that her power has practical applications in combat. How well do you think she can manipulate the field, or expand it outward?"
"We put the modulator bands on her – got a decent reading off the girl. Our initial reading is that – if we had to artificially stimulate her to generate the field, we're looking at, oh, roughly a mile or so – if you pushed it, she could probably expand it out even further; I'd say that the day could come when she could easily take an entire city out of phase. Remember, she's young and has no training in this ability, so with serious training and practice, that will increase – and because this is a psionic ability with passive real-world effects, its use won't adversely affect her physical form. That means she'll also have the potential for very fine control of the field... if she actually puts the effort in to master the ability."
"In other words, Blum-Deckler just became a strategic asset." Armalin nodded. "You said, 'first'. What else are you projecting?"
"Excellent choice of words – Tiffany should be able to do that as well, in time. What I mean is, she should be able to use her power to project a field around other objects or people, rendering them out of sync."
"That could have its uses," Armalin allowed. "Saving the best for last?"
"Oh, yes." The Marine officer smiled a wide smile. "As I said before, when she generates this field, she moves fractionally out of sync with this dimension. With practice, she could modulate the frequency values within the field so that it could fully resonate with the values of other dimensions-"
"-And open up doorways to other dimensions." Armalin's eyes went wide. "Talk about a diamond in the rough."
"With all due respect, Colonel – it's not a job I envy you," the Marine officer shrugged. "I had a difficult time working with her in a simple testing session. How you've managed to work with her for so long..."
Armalin momentarily considered chastising the officer, but allowed for the fact that Tiffany was, in fact, the Legionnaire that most frustrated him in his time with the young people. "Watch yourself, Major. She still deserves our help and consideration."
"Aye, sir," the officer said. "Also – speaking of field-effects, Taylor has roughly the same potential – well, in terms of projecting a wide-area effect. By simple touch alone, she was able to make an entire hangar invisible – including everyone inside and the two C-5A transports. The time may come when she can project her power without touch, but as I see it, the day's coming when she could – theoretically - cloak the entire planet in an invisibility field."
"Tell me about Ruttheimer's ability."
"Yes, sir. You were right about how his power works at the genetic and quantum levels – we saw that when he turned into that five-headed giant dragon from the role-playing game. Please ask him not to do that again on Academy grounds, unless he's in Zero Area."
Armalin shook his head. "Kids."
"It is possible that he could mimic the genetic abilities of other metahumans, but it would cause great stresses upon his body on all levels. It's not a facet of his powers I'd advise developing at any great length; it could cause irreparable damage both to himself and his powers if he were to use them in that fashion to mimic a vastly powerful being, and hold those powers for an extended period. It could kill him or leave him permanently disabled - and in ways I'm actually not comfortable even thinking about." The officer tapped a number of touch-keys on the table-screen. "I've prepared a quick simulation on a scenario which demonstrates the possible – physical repercussions – of such an event occurring."
The other technicians at the table moved away, as if not wanting to see; Armalin watched with a neutral expression as the image deformed and caught in mid-transformation, while the information provided by the adjoining screens made him shake his head slightly.
"I'll have a conversation with him about this," Armalin replied; the door to the laboratory opened, and both Marines turned to see Dawn enter. "Miss Hall? What are you doing here?"
"Wondering why you're trying to sneak around and trick these kids into joining the military," the tiny woman said, her words bringing Armalin to his feet. "With those forms they want the kids to sign- Oh." The look on Armalin's face spoke worlds. "You didn't know about it."
"I will. "
Commander Fuller snapped to attention as Armalin walked into the room; the Marine left the Naval officer at attention as he walked over to the table, glanced through the forms in front of Stacy, and then walked up to stand face-to-face with Fuller.
When he spoke, his voice was colder than any of them had ever heard. "Mrs. Morgendorffer – Legionnaires – let us have this room."
Jane managed to find her voice first. "Sir-"
Armalin's glance shifted to Quinn. "Morgendorffer. Lead your Legionnaires out. Now."
"I don't think that'll be necessary – now will it, Colonel?"
Faces throughout the room were aglow with shock as Armalin immediately snapped to attention at the sound of the Mississippi accent that oozed into the room like a living trail of slime; a moment later, a slender man in his early sixties, no taller than Jane and wearing the uniform of a U.S. Army Major General, stepped into the room and managed the impressive feat of looking down his nose at a man who towered eight or nine inches above him. "Commander Fuller, you are dismissed," the general said, obvious enjoyment in his words. "I think that I can take over the discussion that Colonel Armalin wanted to have, yes? No? I believe so."
The Navy officer disappeared without another word; the general seemed to enjoy keeping Armalin at attention in front of the Legionnaires for a full moment as he drew a cigarette from his uniform and lit up, sending a perfect trio of smoke rings into the air away from the others. "At ease, Colonel – oh, and permission to speak freely is granted."
Several of the Legionnaires seriously wondered – from the look Armalin gave him - if the smaller man would walk out of that room alive. "Good afternoon, General Bakeson. I had no idea that you were still alive."
"Careful, Colonel. You're speaking to a superior officer."
"Not even on your best day ever. Sir. I'm merely speaking to one of higher rank."
The bantam rooster in human form took another drag off his cigarette; General Robert Bakeson diverted his eyes away from the Marine to look around the room at the Legionnaires. "So... this is the cast of 'The Real World – Lawndale," he grunted, letting his eyes linger on both Sandi (who'd arrived barely a minute before the Colonel did) and Daria a touch longer than necessary. "DNA-90210. I've heard interesting stories about all of you..."
He walked over to the table. "You know, you could all have excellent lives in Federal Service; I'm not talking about wearing uniforms and doing exercises like the cadets here, but real things in the field that actually help your country, and make a difference for all Americans. Why don't you just sign those 12-41B's and come to work for me?"
"I'd rather sell time-shares on my butt in Shawshank," Tom said bluntly. "I'd rather sell those shares in Washington or at a Republican convention – better prices," Jane smirked. "As for you–"
Quinn walked up to the General, looked him in the eye and simply barked off a laugh of eternal dismissal as Daria fixed her coldest stare on him from across the room. "Hell will never be frozen enough."
Tiffany pushed the folder away. "With... you? Ewwww."
Brittany turned her nose up and spun away in her chair from the General; Charles scribbled across the form in front of him, closed the folder and handed it to the General, who took one look inside and glared over at Armalin.
"Ruttheimer. That's just crude – do you use language like that in your mother's home? I'd heard that you'd been spending extra time with him, Colonel..." Robert turned and focused in on Sandi. "... And, with her."
Something about the way the two-star general looked at her made Sandi's right hand drop casually beneath the table; Armalin gave her a furtive glance and a imperceptible shake of his head just as a tall, nondescript boy in his late teens, with dark hair and glasses, stepped into the room.
The moment the boy stepped into the room, Stacy rose to her feet and a slow, angry growl of warning slid from her throat; the boy turned to look at her, and his body went slack in that way that high-level martial artists do before they enter combat... "Sorenson, stand down. Armalin, keep your Omega Nightbreed on a leash before I have her housebroken."
The Marine watched the way Stacy and the boy – Sorenson – eyed one another, and looked back at Bakeson, repressing his own inner urge to rip the young man's throat out. "He's an Agent, isn't he?" Armalin demanded. "You restarted the Therian Thirty program – and that... thing... is one of them."
"Temper, temper, Colonel," Bakeson cooed. "David here is just my bodyguard. I'm actually here to look your kids over up-close – and to introduce you to one of my own operatives. Could you come in here, please?"
Helen and the Legionnaires were all struck dumb by the young woman that walked into the room; an attractive young woman wearing sturdy, yet fashionable black boots, a hip-hugging skirt that went just below her knees, a form-fitting purple sweater and stylish black jacket, glasses... and Daria Morgendorffer's face. "I'd like you to meet Special Agent Lynn Cullen," Bakeson said, to no one in particular. "Lynn - introduce yourself to the other children."
The girl looked around the room, and dismissed everyone of her immediate age group immediately. "They said that I should be concerned about all of you," she said, sparing Mack a slow, second glance before facing the group. "I'm sorry... it eludes me."
Lynn waded through a sea of silence as she walked through the room of teenagers; she stopped to give Quinn a once-over (and got a speechless, wide-eyes glance in return) before she stopped in front of Helen. "You're Helen Morgendorffer – the lawyer who works for Jim Vitale and the Schrecter Family, right?" she said, her face unreadable as she looked deep into Helen's eyes, her own seeming to etch every inch of Helen's face into her memory. "I've heard of you..."
Helen took a step backwards as Lynn moved closer. "Get away from my mother."
Lynn froze, as if hearing an echo; she turned to look at Daria, who had risen from her chair. "Oh, did you say something?" the purple-clad young woman said, her expression like Death itself as she fixated on the exact duplicate across the room from her.
Quinn held up her right hand as a violent electrical charge began to literally ignite the air around her fingers, and the room became pungent with the smell of ozone. "I'll say it so you can understand."
Quinn was so shocked by the fact that Armalin had addressed her by her first name – for the first time ever – that she shut her power off instantly. "Very good, Colonel," Bakeson said, enjoying the show as much as the cigarette he took another long, satisfying drag off. "Seems that you've got some basic discipline into these kids after all – but then, you'd have done that anyway... well at least with the Lanes, once you brought them in."
Jane's eyes snapped up. "What? What does that mean?"
Bakeson all but giggled at the look of absolute hate that Armalin burned into him. "Oh – he didn't talk to you about that – and with you being the one that actually asked for him to come in and help you?"
He brushed a piece of lint off his sleeve, and turned to Jane, who was all but in shock. "Silly girl, don't invite a vampire into your home – especially one who was there to find a way through the front door, all along. It leaves you powerless.' Really, Lane – why do you think he was there in Lawndale in the first place?"
Bakeson turned to Lynn, who was face-to-face with a seething Quinn, neither backing down. "Cullen. We're leaving."
"Another time," Lynn said, stepping away. "We'll see just how good you really are, copper-top – or is that 'Eveready?' I've heard about the way you date."
"At least they don't call my dating on the weekends 'Clambake Saturday," Quinn shot back. "The girls must love that thing you do where you suck and flick your tongue at the same time... what do you call that, 'the Lord Voldemort?' I heard it's all the rage for the girls who get confused when they have to choose 'boy or girl' toilets – and by the way, I love your boots. It almost makes up for what you've done with your face!"
Lynn's face flushed angrily, but Bakeson's voice drew her attention. "Lynn!"
Lynn's expression was venomous as she looked back at Quinn once more, and then followed Bakeson and Sorenson out of the conference room. "Everyone else – Lane and I need to talk. Sloane, Ruttheimer – go find Trent Lane and bring him here – Miss Hall said that he came in with her on the plane. Griffin, Morgendorffer-"
Armalin looked over at Daria, who was still in a light state of shock. "-You have testing to attend to. Mrs. Morgendorffer, maybe your other daughter can get you a cup of coffee. The rest of you – disperse."
Armalin sat down at the table, very aware of Jane's eyes on him as the others filed out of the room. "Before you jump to any conclusions about me being 'the traitor inside', let me ask you a question," he said, and the calmness of his tone gave Jane pause. "Just how far back are you aware of your family history – and when I say 'how far back', I'm talking England, in the late 18th Century...?"
"My God – that girl, she was so much like Daria..."
"She just looks like Daria." Quinn brought tray with a cup of coffee and several pieces of pound cake over to the cafeteria table where her mother sat. "I got you coffee and cake."
Helen sipped the coffee, and looked across the table to her younger daughter. "So – this is all about...?"
"The Colonel brought us here yesterday – we're doing all sorts of tests with our powers. Um, Mom... did you watch the news yesterday?"
"Did you hear a story about an earthquake?"
"Yes, somewhere in the Midwest, but they said that -" Helen's voice drifted for a moment, and the older woman fastened a serious glare on her child. "Quinn Elizabeth Morgendorffer – did you cause an earthquake?"
"Yes, but it was only a teeny-tiny, little one..."
"Well, you stop doing that!" She took a bite of the cake, and marveled at the taste. "This is wonderful!"
"It's not bad – we eat better at Legion Tower."
"And when were you and your sister planning to invite your parents to visit your Tower and have dinner or such – especially with your now being Leader?" Helen's voice has a touch of disapproval – although not nearly as much as Quinn had been expecting. "You know, you can call me just to talk to me... or just show up around the house – it is still your home, remember? Your father and I both miss you and your sister... A couple of weeks ago, some boy showed up to deliver a couple of briefs to me at about seven-thirty in the evening. Your father took one look at him, turned to the steps and yelled 'Quinn, your date is here!"
Quinn giggled. "Daddy didn't!"
They were both quiet for a moment. "How is your sister doing?"
Helen knew something she could get upset about was in the making when Quinn's face scrunched momentarily in thought – then suddenly cleared into the gleefully mischievous smirk that meant she had something on her older sister. The older woman followed her daughter's glance across the room, and focused in on Martin, who was walking towards them.
"You won't have to threaten him, Mom. Already taken care of."
For his part, Martin almost turned and left when Helen turned in her chair and locked her glare on him. Look on the bright side, he told himself, making his way to the table. At least, in this reality, she doesn't have a brother.
He had just made it over to the table when a sudden rumble of conversation picked up; he looked up to see three cadets – David Allen and Maryann among them – walking towards the table. Oh, great. Not them, and not now...
Quinn noticed them also, as well as a few other things. The cadets were wearing street clothes, and each wore a very nice black jacket, with an American flag on the right upper arm and a patch with a circle of thirteen stars on the left breast – ten stars of white, with the star at the twelve o' clock position made of gold, and two tracings of stars at the four- and eight o'clock positions.
The redhead that gave her static – static, she giggled inwardly! – was wearing one, along with the cheerleader-type that was hanging her tongue out at Tom, and the Black telepath who was one of the guys who just went to Daria – and carried himself like he was a young version of the Colonel. "Yes?"
The redhead didn't waste words. "They say that you guys are probably going to run a team exercise before you leave," she said. "We're offering to run it with you, as the Red Team aggressor force."
Martin shook his head. "Not happening, Carlyle. They've only been together less than two years, and they're still rough on working as a team – no offense."
Quinn smiled a smile that made Martin worry and Helen suddenly very proud of her daughter. "Didn't learn anything from yesterday's demonstration, hmm?"
"Cadre 2996 is ready for anything that you guys can bring, and more," Maryann purred, "and you're not sporting the only heavy artillery around here – right, David Allen?"
Her attention swung around to David Allen, and Quinn looked him over. "You're just a telepath, right? Okay..."
David Allen's demeanor changed with the dismissive way that Quinn described him. "Yeah, 'just a telepath'," he said, something in the way he spoke giving both Helen and Martin pause, "and I have somewhere I have to be in a few minutes. In or out - Legion Leader?"
"I'm sorry for being late," David Allen said, walking into the testing room – a room which, as Daria had commented earlier on walking inside, looked just like any other classical study or library in a wealthy family's home. "I had to change uniforms-"
"Understood, Cadet Farrington – take your place, please," the small, balding man with the glasses and the slight Polish accent said as he pointed David to the other side of the large, ornate oak table where Daria sat. "Miss Morgendorffer – I'm Professor Berowski, with the Department of Psionics here at the Academy. Now, since we know for certain that you're a telepath, we won't have to do any of the standard tests - a quantum/psionic resonance field scan, CAT or MRI scans, and, of course, the Zener card tests."
"You're only using the modulator bands, Professor?"
"Yes," the Professor said; one of the assistant researchers, a pretty Latina not much older than Daria, brought over to the table what looked like two blood-pressure cuffs, but smaller, as if they were meant to go around a person's wrists. "Miss Morgendorffer – these are Mark 5 modulator bands, which we use to stimulate and gauge a person's metahuman abilities – realized and potential – in a safe and harmless virtual setting that's registered on computer. Now, it's our understanding that your powers are entirely in the realm of informational Psi-"
"Psychic powers are broken down in three 'tiers", David Allen said, wincing as a pair of assistants helped him tape electrodes to his forehead, neck, forearms and behind his ears. "All psi powers are first classified as 'informational' or 'interactive'; they break it down further from there into the four primary psi abilities of telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition and psychokinesis. The first three are informational, and psychokinesis is the gateway interactive ability. It starts getting confusing from there."
"Thank you very much, Cadet," the Professor huffed. "Now, I understand from Dr. Burchell's report, you currently possess the following abilities: Telepathy – access to the full ability, both projecting and receptive to thought transmissions. Mental Domination. Astral Projection. Mental Emission Detection. Linguistics – the passive/transitory ability."
"That means that you can only do it when you're around people, and you don't retain the languages," David Allen told her. "Leda's got the full-power version – she speaks a lot of languages."
"I found out just before I came here that if I'm wearing one of those bands, I can use the powers of anyone else who's wearing one, and they can use my powers."
"Really?" The old man's eyes lit up, and he smiled broadly. "Only psi-powers, or-?"
"No, one of my friends has flame powers, and we could use each other's powers because he was wearing an inhibitor band – that's what the Colonel called it."
"I think you just made them very happy,' David Allen told her. "It makes them happy when the lab rats give them something new and different to look at."
"Cadet Farrington – please stop referring to yourself and the other telepathic cadets as 'the lab rats", the Professor huffed, as the Latina researcher finished putting the bands and electrodes on her forearms and forehead. "There. I believe we're ready."
"Exactly why are you here, anyway?"
"Well, they thought that you'd like to have a friendly face around that wasn't trying to make out with you every fifteen seconds or so... sorry. I'm here in case you happen to have abilities they're not expecting, or in case you get lost inside yourself during the testing. It's happened before."
"Ready, Miss Morgendorffer? There! You can remove the bands and the electrodes now..."
"That's it?" Daria asked. "That's all?"
"Think of it as the psychic version of losing your virginity. Big buildup – but not that much of a big deal afterwards," David Allen observed, watching as the researchers chattered excitedly. "Do you want to link in and-"?
"Cadet Farrington!" the Professor barked. "Let's see... Potential abilities: a far greater Telepathy level than you currently manifest. Sensory manipulation. A low-level neural manipulation ability. Oh, this is interesting – sleep induction...telelocation..."
"I'd say you're a hit – the less they talk to you and among themselves, the more they've found to obsess over." David Allen rose from his chair and motioned for Daria to follow; the researchers were too busy looking over the readings on their tablet PC's. "Definitely a star attraction."
"You seem very comfortable with all of this."
"I've been doing this for ten years, since I was eleven. I'm an Academy 'lifer' - both First and Elite Academy - and I've already done my internship year. You did notice that I'm twenty-one, right?"
"I've heard people mention that before – where did you go?" Daria let the comment about his age pass without comment.
"NAS Pensacola, and then NAS Corpus Christi. I used my internship year to go through flight school," David Allen shrugged, and led Daria out into the beautiful, enclosed patio adjoining the library. "I probably know just as much about psychic testing as they do, and I'm a 'naval aviator' already – it's just not proper to wear the wings here, before I go through Commencement."
"So, you're already in the Navy?"
"It's kind of sketchy and weird to describe, but, yes."
He sat down on an ornate, wrought iron patio chair with a brownish-gold throw covering the seat and back, and gave her a look that meant the conversation was closed. "Speaking of flying – that plane that you guys have... do you know how to fly it?"
"No, but I am learning to fly," Daria told him, taking a seat across the table across from him. "Someday, I might be able to. What do you want to fly?"
"Anything – as long as I'm a Blue Angel. I want to be one of them – the best pilots in the world."
"You want to be a stunt pilot."
Daria looked at him with cooling affection, which David Allen immediately noticed. "Oh. Not a fan of guys like that, I guess."
"It's not you," she said, and David Allen drew back as the image Daria had always imagined of her mother (as a young woman) and a man rolling about on a tiny cot in the back of an auto shop, with a souped-up car sitting nearby flowed out of her to his mind-
"HEY! How DARE you-?"
"Excuse me – but you just let all of that out yourself," the young man growled, and Daria immediately drew back. "Your mind is so powerful, it's like you sometimes 'leak' stuff out of your head! You need to work on that."
"Don't be. Just work on not doing that."
"So, people have been paying attention to our family for centuries?"
"You've got a possible connection to the Wold Newton Family line," Armalin told Jane and Trent. "Every once in a great while, someone looks in on descendants of the line – they usually do... interesting things."
"Well, you fit right in, then, Janey." Trent shuffled in his chair. "So you were sent here to spy on us?"
"No – not spy – and not just you. The government keeps lists of a lot of people with metahuman abilities, and does occasional checks to see how they're doing. Bakeson was trying to make it sound more ominous than it is... besides, Stark wouldn't have let me within a mile of any of you if he thought I meant any of you harm, and he specifically mentioned that he thought I might try to recruit some of you for the service."
"Are you going to? Try and recruit us, I mean."
"Jane, I really don't see most of you as wanting to be in the service – and besides, you have a way of serving the public good already, as Legionnaires. To be honest, I've spoken to Mackenzie about the possibility of attending school here – I don't see that happening, but I did let him know that the option was open."
"I haven't said anything specific... but I could see Griffin coming here. Not sure that she would – but I could see it happen." His beeper went off, and Armalin rose from the table. "I need to check on something. I'll talk to you later."
"Come on – I'll show you a new trick or two."
"You learned new stuff already?"
"Yeah – they have special machines. Come on!"
Jane stepped into the doorway just as Sandi came through; before she knew it, Jane was in the middle of a pile of bodies! "Get off of me!"
Her eyes went huge as an identical voice came back at her. "YOU get up off of ME!"
Scrambling to her feet, Jane came face-to-face with a young woman with her exact face – and as she looked down, she saw another exact duplicate of herself tangled up with three Sandi Griffins. "Whoa. Something tells me that you found out that you have a new way to use your power."
"Ummmn... this was nice..."
Cassidy stretched herself, nuzzling first against Graham and then Lara, letting a supremely satisfied groan claw slowly out of her. "Just think – we could have been doing things like this for a long, long time."
Whatever, Graham thought, pulling away from the two girls and sliding out of bed; he had worked out a final set of computations regarding the sub-molecular tunneling rate of the tertiary probes into the lymphatic system without damaging the valves during the transformation sequence – okay – that should do it, I need to type this in and then plug it all into the prototype.
Not even bothering to put a robe on, Graham sat for the next three hours at the computer before he even thought about the two girls were in his bed; he looked back to see that they lay entwined as they slept, and remembered the rising, frenzied racket that came from the bed two hours and thirty-five minutes ago.
Also, two hours, eight minutes, and a hour, forty minutes ago... and then, twice more – God! If you two are that into each other and getting off, could you at least stay under the covers so your screeching is muffled somewhat?
Graham paid no attention as Lara stirred behind him in bed, and turned back to continue furiously typing for the next ten minutes in the file he'd labeled Trans-Human Anatomical Resequencing Optimizer-Cybernetic...
"Are they ever going to get enough of this?"
"It got old to me after the first fifteen times," Mack said, yawning as he glanced over to Charles, "but the girls seem to like it, so we'd better just let them have their fun."
The two male Legionnaires sat in the back of the Cadet Lounge and looked sullen as all of the female Legionnaires (minus a notably absent Jane) were gathered in front of the giant plasma screen TV and a visibly annoyed Martin.
"That Martin guy has it seriously bad for Daria if he's putting up with the Fashion Club for this long," Charles yawned.
Mack and Charles looked up as Armalin walked into the room, Admiral Harriman directly behind him. "On your feet, Legionnaires!" the Marine officer barked, bringing the assembled young people off the furniture with curious expressions on their faces. "It seems that the Admiral has been made aware of an interesting request from one of you!"
The Legionnaires looked about at each other. "Apparently, it seems that your Leader has requested a full-power team exercise against an equal metahuman assault force, in order to gauge your skills. It also seems that there has been more than a bit of horse-trading and backroom wheeling and dealing to rearrange schedules so that this live-fire exercise – which, by the way, Admiral Harriman here has signed off on – is to be held in just over an hour."
Armalin glanced at his watch. "By the way, where the hell is Lane? I haven't seen her – or her duplicates - for a couple of hours, ever since that little stunt of yours, Griffin. You'll need to work on keeping that under control."
"Well, people – you're on in sixty. Peters – escort them to the Green Room – and find Lane on your way. This isn't like her."
"What isn't like me?"
Everyone turned to see Jane scoot into the room, followed by Maryann. "Hmn? What's not like me?"
"Where have you been, Lane – and where are your duplicates?" Armalin scowled as he spoke. "Well?"
"They disappeared about thirty minutes ago," she said, forcing a yawn to cover up the indecently pleased smile on her face. "I guess they only last about three hours, more or less."
"I found her coming out of the bathroom down the hall from the main gym," Maryann said, in answer to the Admiral's unspoken question. "The one that-"
"Yes, I know," the Admiral replied. "Don't you have somewhere that you need to be, Cadet Lyter?"
Thirty seconds later, the two officers were alone in the room. "Kids," the Colonel repeated, shaking his head before turning to face the bemused expression on his fellow officer's face. "With all due respect, Admiral – as if your cadets are any different."
"Let's go, Kyleton. I want to see how your kids act on my playground."
"You know – this is the first time I've seen a 'Green Room' that was actually green," Jane said, half-skipping as she went first through the door of the large room covered in an iridescent, bluish-green material. "Turquoise, actually."
"Gee, thanks, Quinn," Sandi slurred, sounding all too much like the shallow high-school girl she once was as they walked into the room. "Next time you accept a challenge to fight somebody, at least let us know first."
"It's not going to be a fight – what are they going to do – have us kill each other off?" Quinn said; her eyes, however, held a bit of unease as she looked around the room. "Ewwww... this is what the government does with people's money?"
Daria shook her head as she walked over to one of the large, plush Queen Anne-style chairs in the room – fifteen in all. "Okay, this is actually weird," she said to one of the technicians that walked into the room behind them. "You have a room that looks like it has day-glo flypaper on the walls - and stock it with living-room furniture. How come?"
"Because people are more comfortable sitting in them – it's the high backs and the nice armrests," the tech answered. "Take a seat – we'll put the modulator bands on you."
"Those again?" Mack asked, taking a seat. "I thought they said those things let them see exactly what we could do with our powers without using them."
"Exactly," another technician said as she wrapped a band around Mack's wrists, and then held up what looked like a set of stereo headphones with large, wraparound sunshades built upon them. "This is your zero immersion headset. Just put it on, and relax. You'll know when it's working."
"Immersion – is this some sort of virtual reality simulator?" Tom asked, looking at his headset warily. "Some sort of," the pretty tech helping him laughed. "You'll love it."
"Is everybody ready?" the Colonel's voice rang out, and the Legionnaires looked about to see him enter the room. "I need a moment."
The technicians left, and the Colonel looked slowly around the room, looking each Legionnaire in the eye. "Okay," he said. "A few things. This is a virtual-reality simulation, but it'll be more real than you ever imagined. Remember that."
"Very. Now, some of you have done stuff like this before. Some of you haven't."
Armalin turned to look at Mack and Tom. "Trial by fire – pardon the pun, Mackenzie. Just watch yourself, and do what feels right. That means it's okay to fall back, and it's okay to retreat. It's better to be smart than to be brave, because you live longer. This is VR and you really can't get hurt – but don't develop bad habits."
The Legionnaires glanced around at one another. "You have an advantage over the cadets here – they have a rulebook that they've learned to live by. That makes them dangerous, but it also makes them predictable. You guys won't be. Do things that they won't expect. Always change up on them. Don't fight the fights they bring to you. To them, you're not professionals – you're kids, playing around with costumes, powers, cash and a staff of publicists. Make them NOT taking you seriously your greatest asset. Keep them off balance, so that they can't coordinate their tactics – and for God's sake, listen to each other!"
As he spoke, Armalin walked around the room, placing a small digital chip in each Legionnaire's headset; he stopped in front of Sandi, placing a chip inside her headset, and then held up a second for her to see. "You already have everything that you need to get through this," he said, loading the second chip as he looked her directly in the eye. "This is not about winning. This is not even about showing people that you're just as good as they are."
He walked toward the door. "All of you need to remember only one thing: this is one of the few times you'll ever get to go all-out against competition who's tough enough to take what you can throw at them, give as good as they get – and you all get to walk away afterwards. Use this opportunity for all it's worth."
Armalin turned around to give them a final look. "Legionnaires – bring the fire."
The door closed behind him; five seconds later, all of the Legionnaires squealed or grunted as they were all unceremoniously dropped onto solid ground!
"Oh." Daria was the first to speak; rubbing her bottom, she stood up to take in the area they were in; it was a huge, beautiful park next to the edge of a river, in a city slightly bigger than Lawndale, judging by the number and size of the tall buildings in the sparse skyline. "This is...Oh."
"Hey – we're in our uniforms!" Charles cried out, looking at himself in the reflection of a puddle of water; he turned to Mack, who was dressed in a fire-red tunic with a canary-yellow undershirt. "Mister Mackenzie! Excellent colors – you cut a dashing figure, indeed!"
Even Sandi and Quinn seemed to like the look of Mack's uniform, which replaced the red Legion logo with one of yellow and added eight compass points around the border, giving the logo the look of a miniature sun. "Snazzy threads, Mackenzie," Jane chuckled. "You work fast, if you came up with that in a day."
"Actually, your friend Peters gave me the idea," he said. "He said that he thought I'd really like it. That guy is spooky, sometimes, with the things he knows."
Tom flew outwards over the surface of the river, running his hand through the surprisingly crystalline waters before landing next to Jane. "It's wet – I mean – it feels so real."
Jane pulled Tom to her, and their lips met. "God," she said, her eyes wide. "Someday, someone is going to be very, very, very rich off this."
The Legionnaires looked at Brittany, who had walked a good ten yards away from the group. "Didn't you ever see 'Heartbreak Ridge? Spread out, so they can't get everybody at once!"
Nervously, the others started to move apart; Brittany shook her head as she put one of the Legion micro-transceivers in her right ear. "No! Stick with the teams we used in Alaska! Me, Daria and Stacy will head north, straight up into the city. Quinn, you take Tom and Tiffany and head east. – Mack, go with them. Jane, Charles and Sandi will go west, downriver. Go as far as you can for fifteen minutes, then turn and head north for fifteen minutes. Stay low, and under cover as much as you can. If you don't run into anybody, sweep back in the opposite direction that you came from and we'll meet up in the middle. Don't use the radios unless you have to, and don't just jump out and ambush somebody. Let them come to us."
[Good plan, blond ambition. Shame you won't have a chance to use it.]
[Close enough for government work. Three... two... one...]
>>EVERYBODY – RUN!<<
"NO!" Sandi screamed. "Jane – shields! NOW!"
Jane barely had time to surround the Legionnaires before a wall of white – so bright that from their view, the sky actually turned dark – exploded in front of them, chewing through earth, concrete, metal, water and air with a violent fury that none of them had ever seen outside of Quinn's most powerful blasts! The earth below them rocked; Jane raised her force-bubble into the air as the ground beneath it dissolved into the primal cauldron of light and force that seemed to shift and turn, moving like the Finger of God Himself in a line that obliterated the entire area where the Legionnaires once stood!
"I think the party's just started," Charles said, his right arm turning into a spiked mace the size of a basketball. "Nice save, Jane."
"What hit us?" Quinn asked, her eyes wide as Jane set the bubble down in a parking lot about fifty feet from the giant, cavernous wound in the earth left by the massive energy blast.
"That would be me," a voice from above called out, and the Legionnaires turned about to see David Allen, standing across the street from them on the roof of an open-air parking garage, four stories up. "Just a telepath'."
He gave the Legionnaires a look totally without emotion. "Welcome to the world of 'Combat Psi'. How do you like it so far, Red?"
"Most guys usually take me to dinner before they start getting fresh," Quinn shot back.
"Let me make it up to you with a dance – and since I don't want anybody feeling left out..."
He snapped his fingers loudly enough that the Legionnaires could hear it from where he stood – and in a flash of light, David Allen was joined by nine other cadets, all wearing the same type of black jacket that he wore! "It's time you preps learned how to act when you walk up in someone else's house," he said, his hands suddenly awash with white light. "ALLIANCE! Prepare for assault!"
With an angry roar, Quinn's powers exploded into life, and a spider's web of heavy, incandescent bolts exploded outwards from every point on the front of her body!