LLH 12.6 – 'Bop Til You Drop'
The greatest opposition to the Bowman Acts was embodied in Professor Richard Hiram Blumenburg. A balding, tiny man of Jewish descent, Blumenburg escaped pre-World War II Europe as a child in his mother's arms, and was an instinctive scientific genius, particularly in the area of genetic research. This research led him to a lifelong career in the United States Government – and for over two decades before his death in 2006, the post of Deputy Commandant at the United States Academy of Extranormal Studies (a prestigious and extraordinary position for a man who had never served a day in uniform). James Bowman and Blumenburg were not enemies by any means – in fact, they were quite friendly in their dealings and kept in frequent contact, mostly to exchange information to sway the other's opinion.
Blumenburg firmly believed that the 'secret' of metahumans should be revealed to the world in general, so that these people could openly share their abilities for the betterment of mankind. He wasn't blind to the fact that wrongdoing would occur; it was a little-known fact that – while Blumenberg opposed the Bowman Acts in general - he was the unacknowledged co-author of the Bowman Act of 1982, for both men shared common ground in what the U. S. Government's disposition on telepaths should be.
What he wanted to see most of all was to see the day when - as in the comic magazines and literature of his childhood that featured such heroes as the Justice Guild, the Grey Ghost and the Flying Moor - a new breed of men and women would rise. A breed above those in the uniforms of the Armed Forces and the First Responders who serve the nation; men and women who would also serve as symbols that spoke to the best of the human condition, and inspire others to see beyond the trivialities that man always found to deem more important than joining together to make the world a better place for all.
Roughly ten years before he passed away, Professor Blumenburg took an extraordinary interest in several cadets in that year's incoming class at USAES, and personally saw that they were all placed into a single cadre. He closely monitored and tailored their studies, activities and even social habits; he made himself available to that cadre in such a way that - on several occasions - he received formal reprimands on the grounds that his tutelage might be interfering with the indoctrination that was required of future U.S. military officers and law-enforcement personnel. It is also interesting to note from his diary entries that the last trip he ever took was to a suburb of Baltimore, Maryland, one cut short because his host (who was never named in his journals, but was apparently a man with superior connections within the government and possessed of incredible wealth) took his leave in order to travel to Los Angeles – and that the subject of discussion was Academy Training Cadre 2996.
The events that occurred from 2006 to 2008 were therefore not unexpected. Even with the fact that all of them went on to careers and lives of great renown, the cadets who were informally known as 'The Alliance' would always feel (on some level) that they were the bastard children, hidden away from the world while the members of Legion Chapter Number One (Lawndale, Maryland) received the adulation, trappings and legitimacy of being the publicly recognized heirs to the legacy of Russell Stark's dream for a better world. Even so, those ten cadets served as pallbearers at Blumenburg's funeral at Arlington National Cemetery, never spoke ill of him or his teachings, and most followed his dream into distinguished service as members of the Eagle Guard and Strikeforce; America – the American government's premiere metahuman operations groups of the 21st Century.
There was, of course, one exception to that group of cadets – the one who went on to become a Legionnaire herself.
-from Support Your Guardsmen; A History of the United States Special Tactical Strike Command (Volume III: 1980 to 2010 – Unaffiliated and Unofficial Metahuman Operations)
Very few cadets missed seeing the now legendary 'Legion vs. Alliance' fight in person. It didn't make that much difference, since everyone was eager to give his or her first-hand accounts of the battle. Plus, the video is awesome.
I was one of the few who missed it. Trent wanted to get something from the Legion's plane, and I escorted him back out. He asked me if I'd like to take a look around, and I said that I would.
That is one well-equipped plane.
- from Inside the Tower, by K.M. Sherrie
The young man hesitated just for a moment before pressing the small cybernetic device, shaped roughly like a crab, in a position just behind and below his left ear. He felt the tiny pricking of the molecular bonding taking effect, and a slight touch of nausea made him sit down for a moment.
The sensation passed, and Graham turned slowly to the video camera positioned next to his laptop computer. "Trans-Human Anatomical Resequencing Optimizer-Cybernetic test run – fourth attempt," he said. "As my records show, I've used the prototype three times before. Test One was two nights ago, on a fifty-four year old African-American homeless man from Oakdale, who was suffering from an advanced form of Wilson's Disease and also had his right arm amputated just below the elbow. Test Two took place yesterday morning, on a forty-nine year-old morbidly obese woman living in Lawndale who has a history of sleep apnea and hypoglycemia. Test Three took place last night, on a forty-two year-old woman of Korean-American descent in the long-term, secure-care section at the Adelaide Gardens Convalescent Center who is suffering from a condition resembling Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, but seems to have a genetic/hereditary factor involved. I chose all three at random, and paid off the appropriate people for access to the three subjects and transfer to a secure location for the purpose of the test. Money hasn't been a problem in the last week."
He paused for a moment, and continued on. "The tests on all three subjects were successful. All subjects were completely cured of their conditions, and the prototype worked perfectly in that it restructured their physical forms to anatomically-perfect human specifications – age, early twenties."
Graham smiled. "After successful completion of the tests, I released each of the subjects back into their lives. Each subject was also given a series of subconscious behaviorial modifications – in case I need them again – as well as... specific mental and physical enhancements necessary to allow them to find the necessary resources needed to re-integrate themselves successfully into society, and a special submolecular information device to allow them the knowledge to use their new abilities. The test is ongoing."
Graham finished the glass of lemon tea on his desk, and set the glass back on its coaster. "I have just placed the new version of the THAROC device on myself; the device has locked in place, and the readings show that all neural connections to the device are secure – everything is locked at ninety-seven percent or higher. The transformation will take place when I give the mental command. With the prototype, the transformation took almost one hour to complete; with the system upgrades and the modifications that I've made to the on-board replication suites in the nanite, I estimate that the entire sequence should take less than five minutes, with a significant reduction in the level of... discomfort sufffered by the subjects in the past test sequences."
He closed his eyes. "I've just received the neurological signal that indicates the device is ready for activation. I have just activated the device, and the transformation should be- Oh. Oh."
Graham spat as his body spasmed once, then shook again. "This isn't right-"
His left leg jerked suddenly, and a sharp shriek of pain bounced from the walls as Graham's leg hit the desk, knocking the camera over; the autofocus lens irised out, than back in so that the image of the room blurred and then came back into sharpness just in time so that the flailing shadow stumbling about the room – just barely seen at the very edge of the camera's field of view – was seen falling neatly through the open window.
"Everybody jacked in? Cool! Let's burn!"
'The bathroom' actually was once a bathroom - long ago - but now, it acted as the stabilizing chamber for an artificial tesseract created and maintained over the years by cadets (and the occasional instructor or staff member) at the U.S. Academy of Extranormal Studies, which could transform into any environment needed or desired by the people about to enter. ('Better to have some slight idea of where the mischief was and let it go unspoken, than to wonder where they're going and who might see them' was the unwritten rule among the faculty members.)
Right now, it was a large control room that tapped into the USAES Intranet – the campus-wide computer network – and allowed the seven cadets seated in virtual neural-interface chairs to use their powers to interact with one another and the Intranet as they tapped into the VR construct in use by the Legionnaires.
Cadet Second Class Tainn Reynolds closed her eyes, and the attractive Native American (of Comanche ancestry) felt her mind immediately connect fully with the construct, and then allowed that interconnectivity to be shared by the other cadets. "I'm transmitting the signals," she said, feeling her consciousness flowing outwards until she was literally in perfect sync, able to instantaneously act as the 'Master Control' editing suite for the broadcast she was sending out – able to instantly switch from one angle of view or area to another, capture the events occurring and broadcast them on crisp, crystal-clear video and audio signals. "Everyone, link in."
The other six cadets linked in, their powers allowing them to perform their parts of the broadcast - which was being watched by at least ninety percent of the persons on Academy grounds. One of those students, a thin Cadet First Year with light brown hair and glasses that barely stayed perched atop his large nose, was linked to a separate channel - the USAES online chat room:
[[bets, bets, takin' all bets!]]
[[running the USAES bettin' pool]]
[[don't rat me out]]
Falling limply through the Earth's atmosphere from low orbit, a glowing corona caused by the friction of her re-entry surrounding her body, Maryann Lyter – 'Tempest', when she wore the signature jacket of The Alliance – let deep-seated years of training override the waves of pain and nausea that seeped through every pore of her body, and somehow managed to activate her invulnerability.
It worked, she thought, her body still unresponsive - but cooling and beginning to heal - as she plummeted Earthwards at several times the speed of sound. The Professor said that 'when all else fails, strange and unusual always works.' A spitball in space, propelled by super-breath, and you have a gross - but effective - kinetic round that hits with the power of a railgun. That got that Mackenzie bastard off me – Roman was right about him.
As she saw the sparkling blue of what could only be an ocean rushing up towards her at a frightening speed through pained but clearing eyes, a single thought passed through Maryann's mind:
This may just be a fair fight after all.
"Mack, Sandi – got a moment?"
Sandi Griffin and Mack Mackenzie stepped away from their fellow Legionnaires, who continued to follow Colonel Armalin and several technicians into the VR simulation area, and walked over to Tom Sloane. "You two know that the odds are against us, right?"
Sandi looked oddly impassive, while Mack was visibly nervous as Tom continued to speak. "Look – I've been reading up on the opposition. They call themselves 'The Alliance' – and they're probably the best single group of trainees here, in terms of working as a group."
"Like, they're just like us, or something?" Sandi's eyes widened a bit as she spoke.
"More or less. They've been together for ten years as a group – apparently, the Assistant Commandant picked them specifically to be together in one of those 'training cadres' that all 'First Academy' cadets are put in when they first arrive."
Mack looked at Tom with a curious expression. "Where have you been finding out all of this information?"
Tom shrugged. "The Academy Wiki."
Sandi blinked hard. "The what?"
"The Academy has its own Intranet system," Tom said. "The students put together their own Wikipedia for the things that happen here: each other, various vehicles, the town guys and girls from the area they've dated, their home towns, who they like, class descriptions, types of powers and abilities, us... they've got a lot of information for anybody here for anyone who's a student or who has clearance. I've been reading up on them and their team – they put an entry for 'The Alliance' up this morning, and the page has already gotten more hits than the entire history of Motown Records."
"So, Sandi - these guys really live it. They're always together – they're such a tight group that one of them – this Canadian girl named Field, who's got electric powers like Quinn – she's a Phantom Eagle, but lives in Swedlund Hall instead of Covell Hall!"
Mack's face had a touch of confusion while Sandi's face registered comprehension.
"Yeah." She shook her head. "Oh, yeah."
"What? I don't get it?"
"Covell Hall is the dorm set aside for the Phantom Eagles to live in – and they do everything together," Sandi explained to Mack. "If she's so into her cadre that she lives with them instead of with the Eagles... great."
"It gets better," Tom continued. "This Deputy Commandant Blumenburg – for years, he had them doing 'special training procedures' in addition to the standard training that the other cadets get, and he got officially reprimanded four times for it. They were basically his pet project over the last decade – he personally supervised almost every facet of their lives here, even to the point that he had them all do their internships at the same time, as Cadets Third Class. When he died last year, they all came back from their internships specifically to serve as the pallbearers at his funeral."
Mack's eyes showed understanding now. "So you're saying-"
"That what Mr. Stark wants us to be, The Alliance is probably the same for this Blumenborg guy," Sandi finished for him.
"'Blumenberg' – and yes, I think so," Tom concluded. "I think this guy wanted to create a team just like us, instead of being a group of soldiers or super-cops!"
"Like, this isn't good," Sandi thought aloud.
"At least you've got some training," Mack told her. "We are so screwed."
"Not yet," Tom said. "I didn't want to say this to everybody because I read up on Daria's powers, and when it comes to David Allen – "
Sandi's eyes flared angrily, surprising both Tom and her. "Daria wouldn't turn on us!"
"Not willingly," Tom conceded. "But that's not what I'm worried about – if I tell everybody, David Allen will definitely find out what we know. I've got a plan around that, though."
"But, then, why tell us? Won't he be able to read our minds, too?"
"Actually, who he won't bother reading – and why - is part of the plan," Tom said, smirking at the uncomfortable look on Mack's face. "Have either of you ever heard the story of 'the man with just one gun'?"
Sandi nodded, an evil smile going across her face as Mack looked between his two teammates and wondered – not for the first time in the past few days - what the hell he was dropped into...
"...He doesn't do it under fire, Zoey," Julia Carlyle said, tying her long mass of dark scarlet hair into a ponytail as she leaned against a Queen Anne chair. "Give him a break."
"Speaking of giving someone a break – where's your bra?" Zoey Robertson growled, looking over at the very tight and annoyingly bright neon-pink polo shirt Julia was wearing, and saw how the guys were trying not to keep looking over at the redhead. Kelly's trying her hardest not to look, too. Poor girl. "Are you going to-?"
"Ruttheimer's an x-factor –he's smart, and he can think on his feet; you read up on how he got out of that fight with that polymorph. This 'girls being interested in him' thing is new to him, though; even though he's got flying to get his attention, he's still probably the horndog he was back in high school. I'll wait until he's really in the soup, and then-"
"Rich girls really are the wild ones."
David Allen Farrington paid no attention to the comment Julia made in response, which surprised everyone within earshot. He adjusted the Psychon Mark 30 psionic augmenter on his left wrist, tapped both Maryann Lyter and Zoey on their arms, and nodded towards the hallway.
"Maryann – Zoey – can we talk?"
As they stepped towards the door, Rafael Vargas briefly considered asking what they were up to, but decided against it. The Professor always encouraged his interest in unconventional tactics – just let him run whatever he's got planned.
Old Stanley's was a seven-story hotel built in 1720, two years after the founding of the city itself, and the French influence was evident in the building's architecture. A popular spot with tourists and celebrities alike because of the four-star restaurant on the third floor and the less-cultured (but no less popular or renowned) eatery/drinking establishment on the ground floor, Old Stanley's had an excellent reputation as a place where one could have a great time out on the town.
Among the local residents, Old Stanley's had a slightly different reputation. If you needed help – real help, help that you couldn't get from the police, the government, the Powers The Be - and if you knew how to keep your mouth shut... then you could go to Old Stanley's and ask to go up to the Fourth Floor. If you needed help, and had little or even no money, it was still possible to find help for almost any problem you had there – because some of the – people – that you could meet there didn't necessarily want to be paid in cash, and others simply wanted to help others because they could.
There was a club on the Fourth Floor. The club, known as 'Club 107', was impossibly larger than the whole of Old Stanley's, or so it seemed from the inside, as the club itself had several floors, hotel-style living arrangements of its own and (impossible as it was to believe) – an excellent view of the crystalline lake outside, where a number of cottages, homes, and a large skyscraper-sized building could be seen standing on the opposite side.
On the main floor of Club 107, a large thronging of people (many with obvious metahuman abilities and features) gathered to watch a huge view screen actually built so that it was part of the wall directly behind the large stage. Off to one side of the stage, a young woman held her hand to a touch-plate on the table where she sat, and her face and voice were immediately broadcast on the screen.
"Attention, all guests!" she said, her voice holding obvious pride. "Club 107's special, invitation-only LIVE broadcast of the Legion combat simulation will begin shortly! Please feel free to enjoy the many special items on the Sovereign Emperor's Buffet, which have been brought here for your enjoyment from all four corners of this world and beyond, and for the next hour, all drinks are on the house! For those of you who wish to make any further wagers on any part of the combat - betting will close in the next three minutes!"
Almost as she spoke, people started to gather around the brokers who were seated at a circular table in the center of the room, calling out their bets and pushing slips of paper towards them.
"Twenty thousand on the Legion winning but losing half their team!"
"Five thousand on the Academy kids drawing first blood!"
"Ten thousand on both telepaths going down in the first five minutes!"
"Fifty thousand on this not even lasting five minutes!"
"I'll take that bet – and another hundred thousand that both telepaths will be among the last ones standing!"
"Ten thousand that Black kid the Legion just got will kick more ass than anyone else there!"
"One hundred thousand – at least seven go down within the first ninety seconds!"
A man in glasses went up to one of the bookies. "Two hundred on a draw, but both teams lose at least half their actives, both teams lose their fighters with the Kryptonian powers AND the Academy kids take more lumps."
"That's a serious long shot," the bookie said, a tiny, shorthaired brunette who favored him with a perfect smile as she worked the odds on her computer. "4750 to 1. Trying to call another string of long shots?"
The man shrugged, and dropped several bills in front of the young woman. "Just trying to make a little extra money for a convention I'm planning in Florida for 2008. Saving up."
"If you called this right, money won't be a problem for you for a long time," the woman said, handing him a slip of paper. "See you later, Doc. Say hello to all the bugs for me."
"ALLIANCE! Prepare for assault!"
Quinn's powers exploded outwards with an angry roar as a spider's web of heavy, incandescent bolts exploded from every point on the front of her body towards the young people gathered across from them, on the roof of the parking deck three stories above –
- to be suddenly redirected towards the attractive young Black woman who held up her right hand... and absorbed every volt of electricity. "Thank you," Carolyn Field said, blinking her eyelids; her voice held a throaty, excited timbre, as if absorbing Quinn's attack was incredibly exhilarating for her. "I thought you guys were supposed to be impressive, though."
Quinn looked Carolyn right in the eye. "Charles – impress them."
Barely one second later, the members of The Alliance stepped back in unison as they looked up to see the one-hundred-meter tall form of Godzilla eclipsing the sun as he towered overhead, his iconic roar heard miles away!
David Allen Farrington barely got his telekinetic force-shields up in time to protect his team from the massive, bright-blue blast of explosive energy that cascaded from the monster's mouth and smashed against his defenses with a sound that made the Legionnaires' ears ring! "I got him," Julia Carlyle said as David Allen dropped his shields, her beautiful wings spread wide as she soared upwards in the twinkling of an eye.
Tom switched to the telescopic mode of his 'shape-vision', and his eyes went wide as suddenly, Godzilla disappeared and Charles re-appeared in mid-air, eyes wide open and complexion ashen – just before Julia lashed out at him with a vicious kick to the throat!
Gagging, Charles was unable to avoid the savage kicks to the head and chest Julia rained upon him before swatting him hard with her left wing, sending him hurtling unconscious to the river below!
High above, Julia tucked her shirt back into her jeans and turned to head back downwards when she saw Tom flying out to catch Charles. "Two for one, Sloane. You're mine, too."
Julia opened her mouth - but just as waves of hypersonic energy started to flow outwards, a blurred flash crossed in front of her with blinding speed! "Oh, I've wanted to do that to someone for a long time," Stacy thought, looking down to see Tom set Charles down on the other side of the river. "I need to see if he's okay..."
As Stacy soared after Tom, Julia (knocked out cold by Stacy's attack) fell limply towards the river when a flash of light appeared beneath her - and she dropped neatly into David Allen's arms. "Alliance – weapons free!" he called out, his body aglow in a pinkish-hued telekinetic field that kept him and Julia aloft. "Blue Team – Three-Delta! Gold Team - break and attack!"
The Legionnaires found themselves suddenly in the midst of a violent ice storm, subzero temperatures, gale-force winds and raindrops that hit like bullets of ice driving the majority of them to their knees when the arctic assault suddenly ceased – and Maryann Lyter was standing in front of them! 'Naptime," she said, hitting Daria solidly in the face – turning at super-speed and hitting Brittany with a blow that immediately knocked her out cold - before catching an unconscious Daria before she even began to fall and tossing her to the ground in front of Jane, showing her the blood on her fist and winking at her. "Catch me if you can, blue eyes."
In a heartbeat, she was high in the sky and miles away. "She's dead," Jane said, matter-of-factly, just as Brittany hit the ground behind her – and at that moment, what could have only been a spinning wall of solid, burning flame totally encircled them, burning the breathable gases out of the air inside!
Gasping, Mack rose to his feet and raised his left hand; the flames dissipated immediately as what could have only been a man's loud, anguished gurgling of pain erupted behind the Legionnaires; he didn't even bother to turn and see Jeffrey Brace drop into the middle of the road as his vision slid out of the range of visible light, allowing him to see a feminine shape on top of the roof where the remaining members of The Alliance were...
He held his right hand out, and mentally yanked in the direction of the glimmering figure that signified an active source of EM radiation; Carolyn screamed and dropped to the rooftop, out of sight, as Mack brutally drained her of her complete store of electricity, leaving her barely conscious and out of the fight!
Jane felt a hand grasp her shoulder; she turned to see Sandi next to her – and an instant later, two exact duplicates stood before her! "Thanks," Jane-1 said, as Jane-2 knelt down besides Daria, who had blood running from what was clearly a badly broken nose.
Jane-1 reached out with her powers to wrap a magnetic bubble around the very tall blonde on the rooftop, launching her into space as she gave the bubble a 'like' charge in relation to the Earth's magnetic field – and Jane-3 focused her powers...
Jane-3 speared upwards into the sky after Maryann, flying on tightly controlled magnetic waves at speeds she'd never dreamed of before as she followed the fluctuations in the planet's magnetic field that pointed out exactly where her target was.
A violent electrical blast from Quinn dropped Fabian Nogura – Typhoon, The Alliance's weather-controller - in his tracks as he began to blast her with a torrent of superheated wind! "Jane, Sandi – how are Brittany and Daria?"
"Out cold," said Jane-2 as she checked Daria over; beside her, Tiffany knelt down to roll Brittany over onto her back. "Daria's nose is broken, and Brittany's going to have a huge black eye!"
"You guys – Tom - watch over them!"
"Yes – but who watches the Watchmen?"
Tiffany immediately phased as she heard the unfamiliar voice directly behind her as Tom also whirled around, and he squealed in anguish as Zoey Robertson kicked him directly in the groin with super-strength, dropping him to the ground in a ball of agony!
Screams of absolute agony exploded from Tiffany and Jane-2 as Zoey spun back to then in a blur of super-speed, drove the ends of two shimmering energy javelins directly through their backs and lifted the two female Legionnaires – both still screaming as they shook violently upon the javelins – before throwing them both over to the other side of the street!
"Phasing doesn't work when someone's got a resonance javelin, does it, bitch?" Zoey snarled, ignoring a vomiting Tom as she half-leaped, half-flew over to where Tiffany's form spasmed in unending pain as she lay on her side, the javelin still embedded in her as tears poured across her face and vomit began to spill from her mouth. "Think it over while you lay there and shake in pain." She glanced over to see that Jane-2 had fallen hard and was barely conscious. "Damn. Only one screamer – I'll have to do better."
Zoey turned to look at Sandi – the smirk on her face a direct challenge - and took off running around a corner; before Jane-1 or Quinn could speak, Sandi bolted off in full pursuit! "Sandi-!" Quinn cried out, staring in disbelief at the image of Tiffany and Jane-2 lying in trembling lumps huddled against a wall on the other side of the street, the glowing javelins humming with a deep, unearthly sound loud enough to be heard from where they stood. "Tom! Are you okay?"
Blushing with embarrassment as he struggled to his feet, Tom felt the nauseating pain disappear as he switched his energies over to invulnerability. "I'm – fine."
"Go help Tiffany and Jane-"
The redhead gasped as Tom, moving at super-speed, managed to corral her, Janes 1 and 2, Tiffany, Brittany and Daria - carrying them all a full block away when the exact spot they stood on moments before was struck by what could have only been a meteor! "One of them can bring meteors down on us from space?" Jane-1 gasped, her mouth hung open as she dropped the shield she had only barely managed to raise before the area was filled with flying debris.
"I wish," Tom replied solemnly, as Kelly Springer rose from the hole in the street she had made with her ballistic descent from high orbit. "That's Kelly Springer – Monolith. She's me on the REALLY good steroids."
"You know, this isn't fair," Kelly said, brushing wisps of curling blonde hair from her forehead. "The popular kids taking over the Prom, and trying to keep everyone else out? No fair... I want to dance, too."
"That's not a problem," Tom said, flexing his fists as he glanced down at Jane. "Jane won't mind if I dance with the new girl – do you?"
"Knock her off her feet – and I mean that," Jane-1 growled, looking down at Daria.
Flying at three times the speed of sound, Stacy rolled and dodged the heavy force-bolts and pulsing mental blasts that David Allen sent her way as he gave chase high above the landscape, his firepower literally lighting up the sky. "Maybe I should have hit somebody else," she thought, as the glowing pink pyramids of solid energy that were her opponents' telekinetic force-charges started to explode around her, seeming to home in as they rotated furiously through the sky towards her. "Must go faster – must go faster..."
David Allen's face glowed with pink-hued energy as a trio of pulse-streams rained away from his forehead like machine-gun fire to burn through the spots where Stacy was moments before; inside the wraparound sunglasses he wore, a virtual targeting reticule tracked on Stacy from the left lens while several other indicators gave him access to his own power levels, data from his Mark 30, flight information, and a 360-degree virtual view of the airspace he flew through. "No, little girl," he said, flying on the thrust from his left hand alone as he raised his right hand and carbonized the air in a straight line for a distance of five miles as Stacy barely missed being hit by the heavy beam of force, "you can't get away..."
Several miles away, Lindy Lomard punched through the clouds and flashed upwards towards the aerial combat, her reflective forcefield repelling the forces of gravity and inertia and allowing her to travel at the same hyper-speeds as Stacy and David Allen! "You're doing it again!"
David Allen didn't even bother looking in his teammate's direction. "What, Backtrack?"
"Damnit, Prime - you're here for the kill, not the chase! Stop playing around with her – they'll need us downstairs!" she called out over the transceiver built into their jackets. "Finish her off! 'Robotech' that prep and let's go!"
"Fine! Going to 'Tekestorm' – now!"
David Allen pulled to a halt in midair, went into a crouching position – and Stacy, looking back, gasped as over a hundred glowing, sparking telekinetic force-charges simultaneously exploded from all over his body, shooting outwards before turning in mid-flight and tracking in on her...
Surprised that she felt tense but not frightened, Stacy launched herself forward at Mach Four – four times the speed of sound, faster than a rifle bullet in flight, with the force-charges hot on her tail! "Faster... faster..." she said to herself, dipping downwards and executing a dazzling, corkscrewing maneuver that caused several of the force-charges to collide with one another and prematurely detonate in mid-flight, setting off more of the charges!
Anyone clocking Stacy's speed as she went into level flight would have seen her passing Mach Five - and that the charges were closing on her... over fifty of them. "Faster... faster... I wish I had something to fight with..."
As if in response, a gently burning sensation surrounded Stacy's fingers – and when she lifted her hands to look, she saw that they were encased in sheathes of glistening green energy. "Oh..."
Stacy suddenly had an uncontrollable urge to wiggle her fingers; as she flicked her fingers outwards, ten slender blades of solid green energy flashed away from her hands, spiraling outwards in every direction and somehow, leading the force-charges away in their wake! "Oh, wow," she said, the air behind her suddenly coming to life with a curtain of multi-colored explosions as the blades and the force-charges mutually detonated, clearing the sky of them all!
Doing a hard, sharp upward roll and turn, Stacy headed in on a direct course for David Allen as she concentrated, bringing the energy 'claws' – she could think of no other word for them, especially the way they formed around her fingers – back into blazing life!
Impossibly, Stacy suddenly came to a dead stop in mid-air; a gentle gasp of air escaped from her lips, as she was instantly rendered unconscious. "Nice trick," David Allen said, watching as his teammate enveloped the Legionnaire in a forcefield.
"Been working on it long enough," Lindy told him. "The trick's deflecting away just enough of Rowe's inertial force to knock her out without turning her into debutante salsa when she hit the field. Thanks for keeping her occupied."
"Thank her," he replied. "When she hit Julia and took off, it gave us the perfect opportunity to use our plan. That thing with the energy claws was new, though. I'll have to remember to take the time to lock on her brainwaves instead of her energy signature next time."
"Come on. They'll probably need help with Griffin."
"I have something else to take care of. You get Griffin, I'm still running D-Three."
Sandi came around the corner to what appeared to be a park in the middle of a plaza, a number of beautifully designed waterfalls pouring down through the gardens to feed into a beautiful mirror pool at the bottom. She looked around, and her eyes narrowed as Zoey walked out from behind a large tree to stand in front of the mirror pool.
"Alexandra. I've heard a lot about you."
Saying nothing, Sandi walked down the small path of cobblestones in the middle of the waterfalls towards Zoey. "Colonel Armalin's supposed to be your 'Mr. Miyagi'. He's been working with you for several months, teaching you how to fight. Oh, and by the way – I've forgotten more about fashion than any of you little heifers will ever learn. Forget about just how horrid those things are that you call – uniforms-"
She spat the last word out as if it were a bad taste in her mouth. "What I want to know is how someone who called herself the President of something called 'the Fashion Club' would allow herself to be seen in public... let alone photographed... wearing that. When they said that you were from the East Coast, I took one look at your photos and said, "That has to refer to what she allowed to happen to her sense of style."
Sandi didn't even blink. "Is that all you can do – insult my clothes?"
Zoey waited until Sandi made it to the bottom of the cobblestone path; she smiled, raised her arms, and a blunt-edged javelin appeared in each hand! "All right, then, Alexandra," she said, going into a fighting pose. "Let's see just how good you really are."
In one fluid movement and without a word, Sandi triplicated as she drew her PFT and slid the power setting for maximum – and all three Sandis fired as one, blasting Zoey directly in the face and sending her hurtling end-over-end through a building one hundred yards away!
The three Sandis reached their right hands out to one another, and a moment later, Sandi had reintegrated her doppelgangers.
The Legionnaire started towards the gaping hole in the building when Rafael Vargas dropped from the air silently behind her. "I'm sorry, Alexandra – but even though Zoey's got a big mouth, I can't let you do that again."
Sandi glanced back over her shoulder at the handsome Latino cadet – those jackets they wear make him look even better, she thought. "How are you going to stop me?
Rafael just smiled at her. "Take your best shot."
Even though he knew it was coming, Rafael was still slightly unnerved by just how fast Sandi got off ten blasts, which devastated the waterfalls behind him but, somehow, managed to miss him every time – in three cases, by millimeters. Damn. She's good with that thing. "Better luck next time."
The cadet gestured, and the PFT flew out of Sandi's hand to fly into the mirror pool, now awash with waves from the rain of cobblestones, dirt, wood and concrete from moments earlier. "Right into the water – the one place those things don't work well," he said, gesturing again - and Sandi squealed as she suddenly slipped, fell headfirst into a tree and fell into the mirror pool!
Rafael looked up as Zoey stepped out of the hole in the wall, and flew over to him. "She's mine! I wanted to fight her!"
"This is about the team, Victory – and you know that." Rafael stepped in close to the young woman who was just as tall as he. "A team effort to bring down the opposing force – I'm tired of telling you this. Just because you're wearing that jacket right now doesn't mean you forget the last ten years or the uniform you usually wear – do you understand me, Cadet Robertson?"
Zoey looked away. "Yes, sir."
"Besides, she's already embarrassed you – I saw what happened. Why didn't you activate your battlesuit before you engaged her – why didn't you just hit her from on high with a containment javelin or a stunner?"
"I wanted a fair fight." The young woman looked as if she were about to start pouting.
"Urgent dispatch from the front, Robertson – she's not trained that way. She's trained to win, quick and efficient. Do you want to be embarrassed further by actually fighting her?"
"Let's find out."
Rafael and Sandi turned, surprised, as Sandi rose up from the mirror pool, the PFT in her hand. "Not – that - easy."
The two cadets went flying as Sandi fired a series of pulses into the ground directly in front of them, spraying them with chunks of concrete and earth; she gave them a slight glance before she held the PFT up – and soared off into the sky!
"Where did she go?" Zoey cried out; she was answered by the sound of a PFT firing, and both she and Rafael looked upwards to see her soar off towards the north!
"That PFT's made of Salazarium," Rafael growled. "I want to know how she managed to bring one of those in here in the first place," Zoey growled in unison. "I guess they're sneakier than we planned."
The two cadets leaped into the air, and watched as they saw Sandi head towards a shopping mall off in the distance. "Heading back towards the mother ship," Zoey said with thick sarcasm. "They even have a Neiman Marcus and a Club Banana there, too."
"Kettle. Black." Rafael replied sharply. "Head in the game, Victory."
"We don't have to rush – I'm just saying that she can't be that good at flying with a Salazarium object. Let's hold back until she lands and sprains an ankle – or worse – and then we just sweep her up."
They watched as they saw her swoop down to the front doors of the mall, land without effort, and casually walk through the doors. "Okay – back to Plan B," snarled Zoey. "Let's get her."
Tom slid and bounced several times down the length of the street towards the spot where Jane-1 and Quinn watched him take a backhanded slap from Kelly. "I guess I'm not a waltzing kind of girl," she called out, as Tom got to his feet. "I'm just a girl from Kentucky. I like square dancing – oh, look! I've found a square!"
Quinn, Jane-1 and Tom watched, mouths hanging open, as Kelly dug her fingers into the side of a perfectly squared-off six-story office building, tore it away from its foundation, and then... threw it at them.
Jane-1 reached out with her power and caught the building in mid-air. "I can use this," she said, glancing upwards, and with a simple flick of her hand, threw it into the sky! "Tom-"
"I've got her."
He soared towards Kelly, his right fist cocked back, focusing all that was at that moment in time into that punch, drawing every bit of energy, every reserve that he had, all that he believed that he could be-
Thomas Lyman Sloane struck one single blow.
The concussion from his haymaker punch cracked the walls in every building behind Kelly within a thousand yards, and made every building within four hundred yards implode. The windows in every building within three miles shattered. The concrete and asphalt that made up the sidewalks and streets for a mile in every direction spider-webbed with cracks. Fire hydrants, street signs, trees, traffic signals – all were ripped from the ground and sent flying in a hurricane-force shockwave of pure force that distorted the very air around the two metahumans, and a wave of searing flame ignited by the friction generated from Tom's punch followed the concussion, as the heat flare from a nuclear weapon follows the shockwave of detonation. Cars, vans, mailboxes and other objects, heavy or fastened down, were shorn apart, ignited and dripped flaming, melted droplets and chunks of metal as they hurtled through the air and incinerated in flight; glass, metal, concrete, wood, earth -all were sent careening in a horrific, flaming line of destruction that decimated the city in a straight path that stretched out for well over one hellish mile that resembled the footprint of a tornado... one sent by God himself to bar the chariots of Pharaoh.
Kelly sighed as the air around her cleared, and almost as an afterthought, dropkicked Tom across the river. "Next."
Jane-1's hands began to glow with fields of magnetic force. "I'll stop you!"
Kelly looked at the two founding Legionnaires, took three steps forward as she took a quick breath, blew it out, and knocked Jane-1 off her feet. "I just want to hear three words from you two. 'We give up.'"
Quinn gave the tall, lanky blonde a condescending look that took Jane-1 all the way back to the petite redhead's Fashion Club days; even though she would try, Jane-1 would never remember if she started to move away because of what Quinn proceeded to do in that moment – or because of that look.
The air took on a musky, pungent scent; something told Jane-1 that raising her shields to protect herself, Daria, Brittany and both Jane-2 and Tiffany – who were starting to revive, as the javelins had dissipated only moments before – was a very good idea.
A lightning bolt of Biblical proportions split the sky.
Tainn's eyes fluttered open, widening with shock. "Oh, my – look at what she's doing...!"
"She's bridging the Grid from VR!" another cadet called out. "Open all ID dampener shunts – all of the arrays – hurry!"
The orders had been barely given when the lights, and most of the monitors present in 'the bathroom', began to flicker.
A cadet with skin the color of rich, dark coffee opened his eyes, which were full of sudden fear. "She's going for the planet's magnetic field."
A slim brunette and a muscular young man with hair cut so low he might as well been bald spoke in unison from their neural interlink chairs; both of them had an electric-violet shimmering in their left eyes as they turned as one person to face him.
"Then give her one in there - before Morgendorffer bridges the Grid and does it in the real world! HURRY-!"
"Give me full access to the main A.I. cores and the primary holographic activation matrix for the entire VR simulation array - link me directly into the USAES primary mainframes and the Academy Wiki, and tie everything into my chair with the neural-scan interface and the Magrathea system!"
The Black cadet's eyes went entirely white as he opened his mind to the virtual universe in which the Legion and the Alliance battled, and yottabytes of information, nudged, manipulated, extrapolated upon and guided by the cadet at the speed of thought, filled the domain outside of space and time as the average person knows it...
...As the Black cadet created an actual, complete virtual Earth inside the VR simulation... one that was absolutely indistinguishable from the real Earth.
The Black cadet spoke only five words; afterwards, he was incapable of speech until the simulation ended.
"The Shadow Earth... is on-line."
Across the surface of the planet, bolts of lightning seemed to spontaneously burst into existence and arc through the atmosphere; in cloudy skies or those clear as crystal, apocalyptic claps of thunder echoed across the surface of the Earth.
Quinn's body went blue-white and shone with power; Jane and Tiffany had to shield their eyes, and as Kelly watched, she observed that this was reminiscent of the first time she was at Ground Zero of a nuclear explosion... The hell-bolt of primal electrical energy – the entire electrical potential that could be generated through the magnetic field of the Earth itself – bathed her with light and force and power... as the light faded and she returned to her normal appearance, Quinn turned to Kelly and held her left hand in the air like a gun as a tiny, barely-visible arc of electricity made a single, swirling circle around her index finger.
"You get one."
Quinn pointed, and dropped her thumb. "BANG."
"QUINN!" Jane-1 screamed, as Quinn, horrified at what she'd done, looked as if she were about to leap feet-first into the Queen Mother of all freak-outs. "What did you do?"
[She's learned how to use her lightning in an effective manner. Nice shot. We were warned about not letting you draw down on anyone... and Kelly should have listened.]
David Allen dropped from the sky on the very spot where Kelly was blown apart so completely that not even wisps of vapor were left, and focused on Quinn with irises glowing a perfect, electric blue.
[That won't work with me – but just the same... glad you brought your 'A'-game, red. Welcome to Thunderdome.]
The condescending tone of his voice snapped Quinn back to reality – and ensured that she couldn't have tried any harder to look down her nose at him. "You need to walk away right now... what is your name, anyway?"
David Allen crossed his arms as he looked at Quinn, and a colossal corona of flame exploded into life around him; as the corona expanded outwards to fill the street and rise into the air high above them, the Legionnaires could see it taking on a shape – the shape of a giant bird of flame.
From inside the flames, the Legionnaires could only see the darkness of David Allen's silhouette... and how his eyes were now fully awash with an electric blue glow that easily penetrated the blinding light of the flames around him.
[You will address me... as Esper Prime.]
"There she is."
Jane-3 sheared through the upper atmosphere, locked on Maryann's magnetic signature, and accelerated towards her. "You're done," she thought, and a smile crossed her face as she felt a magnetic pulse from far below, before heading in on an intercept course.
High above, Maryann watched as Jane-3 sped towards her. "Good speed," she thought aloud. "Now – you learn not to leave your wingman."
She focused, took a gentle breath, closed her eyes – and when she opened them again, twin beams of white-hot energy lanced forth into the atmosphere, and Jane-3 had only a second's worth of warning before white light filled the sky around her! "Oh, God!" Jane screamed, feeling intense heat scorch her right shoulder, upper arm and breast as Maryann's 'omni-vision' breached her shields. "AAAAAHHHHHH!!!"
The pain as she moved her right arm to look at her wound made tears run down her face; she smelled what had to be burned skin – I can still feel it, so it's bad but not life-threatening – the little hand on the clock says it's time you die, bitch, die!
Jane-3 screamed as she swung her right arm, releasing a massive wave of iridescent-blue magnetic force; she swung with her left arm to release a second wave, and then a third exploded away from her!
Several miles above, Maryann saw, with widening eyes, the expanding waves of force shearing through space towards her at a speed too fast to escape from – especially since it would take six seconds for her to switch from one power to another - and the feeling was not pleasant. "Oh, no."
Switching her energy into invulnerability almost as the first wave hit, Maryann focused and tried to fly away – the Salazarium used in the making of the Alliance's jackets allowed them to fly –
She felt a strange twisting inside her body. Maryann turned back, looking into the second wave and gasping as it passed through her, setting every nerve ending in her body ablaze, as if she were in the grip of the single best orgasm she would ever have...
The third wave struck.
Far, far below, Daria's eyes opened, having been awakened by the sound of Maryann's scream in her mind.
Maryann twitched, fighting off waves of nausea and pulsing, overwhelming pain that shot throughout every single, square inch of her body as she fought to regain her senses, shaking her head clear as she saw Jane approaching.
Below her, Jane was slightly surprised that her opposition was still moving. I figured that she'd go invulnerable, but still... The first wave set up a self-sustaining magnetic field in Maryann's skeleton, the second magnetized her body with an opposite charge from the first, and the third wave set up a much stronger field in her skeleton that acted upon the Earth's magnetic field as a 'like' charge...
Only going invulnerable kept Maryann from having her skeleton torn straight from her body. She took deep breaths, focused on Jane, and prepared to fire her omni-vision-
The cadet's mouth dropped open as she saw a six-story building, held intact by a bubble of solid magnetic force, as it hurtled upwards towards her on a collision course.
"She's in here somewhere," Zoey said, moving through the crowd of panicked virtual shoppers and mall-crawlers as she and Rafael walked through the main court of the three-story shopping mall they had tracked Sandi to. 'Minimum property damage – and let's see if we can do it without you waving someone on one of those javelins like a trophy, all right?"
"Spoilsport," she said, winking at him. "This is why I never went out with you."
"No – we never went out because I'd need to rob a bank to pay for brunch. 'High-maintenance' doesn't begin to cover you, Zoey – along those lines, neither do those pieces of cloth you lie to every time you put one on, and tell it that it's an evening gown."
"Glad you noticed." Her face went taut, her eyes narrowed and she suddenly rose to her full height. "She's here. On this floor- DROP!"
The two cadets hit the floor just as six PFT pulses shattered the storefront display they stood in front of, and a wave of screaming heralded the sounds of stampeding customers for safety – and the exits. "Shooting from behind. Colonel Armalin did teach her a few tricks."
"I thought you figured that out when she shot you in the face with that thing."
"GET UP," Sandi's voice rang out clearly from behind them, and the two looked back to see her standing in the middle of the Food Court, PFT in hand. "You hurt my friends."
Zoey came up from the floor in a single, graceful moment, and then reached back to help Rafael up. "You think you're what - 'Superhero Barbie?' Oh, no, that's right – Quinn's 'Barbie'." She took a step forward and scoffed, pointing, as she looked her over; a blunt-edged javelin formed in Zoey's hands. "You're 'Midge'."
Rafael had no idea what that meant, but by the way Sandi's hand tightened around her PFT so that her knuckles went white, it must have struck deeply. "Let's go."
The laugh from Zoey made even the virtual onlookers, huddled in safety, give one another looks that clearly questioned the girl's sanity. "Trying for a little payback, are you?"
"Payback's not a bitch," Sandi said, her PFT extending outwards to the length of a fighting staff, "but I am."
"Glad you could make the sorority meeting this week, then!" Julia sneered, dropping down to the left of Sandi through the open-air roof and brought a pair of tonfa in play, spinning the two wooden weapons as her wings folded back. "Zoey – you have to learn to share."
"Isn't that the truth!" Lindy echoed, coming through the roof; as she touched down, she drew nunchaku from a sheath on her leg and began spinning the weapon in a blurring, hideously intricate pattern that showed intimate skill before she stopped and locked eyes with Sandi. "Sorry, Rafael – 'girls only' tonight."
Rafael shook his head as he took a short staff from a sheath on his leg. "Leader's prerogative, ladies."
He made a flexing motion with the staff; and Sandi's eyes were like saucers as the staff telescoped out to six feet in length, with one end snapping open to separate into three blunted points – each part erupting with a burning blue energy that made the weapon look like a freaky cyberpunk trident! "Let's take her down, Alliance," Rafael said, holding the staff firmly in his right hand as he flexed his left wrist downward, and tendrils of solid light came spilling out from the device on his wrist to form an energy net, sparks flicking and jumping as he pulled it over the floor and began to spin it in air. "If... she doesn't surrender now."
The javelin in Zoey's hands began to hum furiously, and a shimmering field of energy sheathed the weapon as she began to spin in her hands. "Don't you know that when you're surrounded by four people like us," she snarled at Sandi, "it means that you should give up right then and there?"
Sandi looked her directly in the eye, and held up her PFT. "Don't you know that when you hear the sound of my zipper unzipping, it means that you can suck my-"
The last word disappeared in light and sound as Sandi slammed the tip of her PFT down on the floor, and a violent blister of blinding light and concussive force exploded outwards to engulf the cadets, the Food Court, and everything within a forty-yard radius of the Legionnaire!
Inwardly thanking her doppelganger for the diversion that gave her breathing room - the building that hit Maryann like a round from a mass driver – Jane-3 was ready, this time, as the twin beams smashed into her shields. "Good, good, just keep that up," Maryann said; she closed her left eye, and a single beam, slightly more powerful than before, lanced out from her right eye to explode against Jane-3's shields.
"Is that all you've got?" the Legionnaire screamed; unknown to her, Maryann could read lips.
"No," she mouthed the words. "No - it's not."
She began to furiously blink her left eye, and a machine gun-like flurry of hot, staccato pulses chopped downwards into Jane-3's shields. The pulses from her omni-vision – each as powerful as one single beam - sprayed across the front of the shields; the spots where they struck began to glow white-hot before the single, pencil-thin beam from Maryann's right eye lanced down to breach her shield and pass through her upper left thigh like the proverbial knife through butter! "Those are some bad burns you've got there," she quipped as Jane-3 began to slowly tumble downwards, her shields flickering. "Maybe you should put some ice on that. Let me help."
Using her super-breath, Maryann began to freeze the atmosphere around Jane-3, encasing her in a stadium-sized ball of ice that seemed to get larger, larger and larger as she continued-
Pain – even worse than what she'd experienced earlier at Jane-3's hands – ripped through her as a pair of hands grabbed her upper arms from behind, and she spun her head back to see Mack behind her, draining power from her!
He's cutting off my connection to the Sun – he's draining me faster than I can absorb solar radiation – oh, God in Heaven, it hurts it hurts IT HURTS IT HURTS IT HURTS-
Her head rolled limply forward; Mack saw this and stopped draining, but held on to Maryann's arms – and he went spinning backwards, a look of pain and surprise on his face as the young woman spat a wad of phlegm from the corner of her mouth and struck him dead center in his chest. He was still moving backwards when his form disappeared, and Maryann saw the blue-white curvature of the Earth's horizon roll slowly into her field of view.
Concentrate... concentrate... focus in... ignore the pain...I can't move my arms, I can't move anything, he drained me so far down that I'm too weak to even move anything – I can't even blink... I can feel the temperature rising around me - focus past that, turn inwards and activate your power... do it, do it... just hold on, now – about thirty seconds until I've re-absorbed enough power to switch over to invulnerability – just thirty or so more seconds...
At least the plan worked... split them up and piss them off – but I thought Jeffrey was supposed to take care of that Mackenzie guy.
A gentle, scarlet glow began to surround Maryann's body, and she wanted to weep as she felt the exposed surface layers of her skin begin to burn.
I'm beginning re-entry...
Had anyone been looking upwards, they would have seen a ball of ice – a ball of ice the size of the Millennium Dome - dropping from the sky. They would have also seen something resembling a comet flying into the ball of ice – and several seconds later, how the ball of ice exploded outwards into a spectacular display of glittering shards that melted as they fell to Earth.
"ACK! Sugar shock!" Mack laughed, as Jane-3 – who he carried in his arms – snuggled against him to warm herself. "So, this is what the Legion's been doing since you guys put it together?"
"No. It's usually worse than this."
"I am – but spoken for."
Mack gave Jane-3 a sarcastic glance. "I still remember that you owe me a pizza."
"You saved me, just so you could get a pizza?"
"No – just so I could say that I 'saved the girl' – and a pretty one, too. The pizza's just a bonus."
"I didn't think super-flirting was a power."
Mack gave her a winning smile that couldn't have been brighter even if he'd used his power to generate light. "You didn't ask."
Jane snuggled in closer, and winced with pain from her wound. "That's one thing the Alliance has over us," she sniffled. "They have a couple of healers – their telepath, and the bitch with the wings."
Quinn's electrical blasts connected violently with David Allen's 'Prime Bolts' – pseduo-plasmic TK blasts that literally carbonized the air around them as they were fired – creating a unholy backlash that created a fifty-foot deep crater where the blasts intersected, sent the other Legionnaires ducking even within one of the Jane's shields, and blew both of them hundreds of yards apart! "Owwww," Quinn, said, pulling herself from a wall of shrubbery that surrounded a day-care center... which was well over a half-mile away, and on the opposite side of the river from where the others were. "Owwww. Jerk."
Near the edge of the zone of devastation caused by Tom's uber-punch – almost a mile from Ground Zero for the blasts, David Allen lifted himself from the rubble of a partially collapsed office. "Does every redhead with superpowers have to be a pain in the ass-?" He gave a quick glance at the untouched, portrait-sized photo of a family on the wall as he stood up, and gave the very attractive twin daughters in the photo a second glance. "Now, that's what I'm talking about." He stopped to give the photo a very good look. "Very nice..."
"Yes – they're both cute."
David Allen realized that he was thinking aloud as he spun about – and choked as he felt Tom's hand clasped around his throat with superhuman strength! "Remember what you said the other night... 'Protect her?'" the Legionnaire growled, lifting his opponent a good foot into the air. "Consider this part of my keeping the deal."
He slammed David Allen down headfirst several times against the large, solid oak desk in the middle of the room, and then, threw him through the wall as if it were rice paper. "That should take care of him."
Tom took a moment to rest, when he heard David Allen's voice in his mind.
Totally alert, the Legionnaire dashed into the next room, only to find that it was empty. "Oh, no."
Tom turned to see David Allen behind him, floating exactly one inch off the ground and the entire surface of his eyes glowing electric blue. He began to move back as David Allen brought his hands to chest level – and as he clasped them into fists, they began to glow with so much energy that they went translucent, resembling nothing so much as miniature stars...
The entire area disappeared into death light, and Tom could see only the electric-blue of David Allen's eyes in the primal illumination; six seconds later, Tom heard - in his mind - only two words.
Quinn had just reached the others when the building David Allen crashed into lit up as if every room inside had spotlights inside of standard bulbs. "What's going on in there?"
She drew back with a gasp of fear as she touched her sister's arm and Daria turned, irises glowing with the same bright, electric blue shimmer that lit up David Allen's eyes. "Daria-"
"Tom went after David Allen," Daria said, an icy, throaty reverberation in her voice that made the others begin to move back. "He chose - poorly."
She turned back to see the giant bird-form of flame burst into being around the building – which exploded outwards as the limp, inert form of Tom Sloane rocketed away at an unholy speed towards the horizon... towards the shining, silver crescent that hung low in the sky.
"This is Prime. Sloane is down. I'm on four Legion targets. Mark my position and reinforce."
A thick beam that more closely resembled a rushing stream of water than an energy bolt smashed into David Allen; staggering, he looked around, began to psi-scan for the source of the mental blast - and locked his eyes on Daria. [So – another Legionnaire's manifested under pressure, I see? I seem to bring that out of the Legion's women.]
[That's CADET Jerk to you – babe.] Not bad, Daria – but I still know how to get under your skin.
Smiling because he knew that would annoy her – as well as the 'babe' comment – David Allen used his TK to send a torrent of water from the river splashing over her! [A hot chick like you needs to cool off a bit - besides, you look good wet. You look REALLY good wet.]
A second mental bolt streamed upwards, and David Allen brushed it aside with casual ease. He smirked, and reached out with his telepathy with a message for Daria alone:
[Just like a subby chick. Brings a tube of lipstick to a gunfight.]
The return message was just what he expected:
>>Does it help if I got the lipstick from 'Q' branch?<<
Good. She's got the sarcasm back on – that'll make this a lot easier.
Smirking, he dodged a bolt of lightning, fired a devastating barrage of TK force-charges that sent Jane-1 and –2, Quinn and Tiffany diving for cover – [You wait your turn, little girls], he sent in their direction - and then broadcast back to Daria.
[Doesn't matter if you got it from the Branch Davidians or out from under Alvin and the Chipmunks – you're heading right back to 'cuddle bunny' school with your sister! Maybe you'll learn something nice and girlish; something that's just the right balance of demure femininity and whorish allure – that way, you can work things so that you can have an actual shot at stealing Tom away from your BEST FRIEND.]
He could feel the shock and embarrassment rolling up from the young woman, almost as if it had physical force.
>>You don't know what the HELL you're talking about! Seems to me that you need to worry more about the way that YOU feel about that redhead with the wings!<<
[You sound like my brothers and my father, who try to say that I just like White girls because I don't chase the neighborhood skanks when I go home for visits – the thing is, I'm from the James Bond school of thought on the matter, and I like ALL girls! Along those lines... your sister's kind of cute. She's really all fired up coming after me, and she hardly knows me, right? There's a word for when a woman acts like this towards a guy – what is it – oh, right. Foreplay.]
He let the last words sink in for a second before he went for the kill. [I'll bet she's a real tiger in the sack. Runs in the family... right?]
Even prepared, Daria's industrial-strength mental blast sent David Allen flying for a good half-mile before he could regain control. He stopped his mid-air tumble, reinforced his decimated shields (later, the telemetry from his Mark 30 would record that Daria's blast took his shields down by 73%), and looked back at his Legionnaire counterpart with a feral delight in his eyes as they began to glow... glowing brighter than ever before.
[So... you consider yourself something of a telepath, after all.]
Energy exploded around his airborne form; seventy miles away, Mack and Jane (who had managed to catch an unconscious Tom before he left Earth orbit) saw the giant shape of a bird of pure gold-red flames rise up and spread its wings over the city...
A sharp, piercing cry – one resembling the cry of a large bird - echoed across the landscape, awakening everyone knocked unconscious.
[Well, then, Miss Morgendorffer - let's see how good you really are.]
Daria felt something awaken within herself as the cry echoed from deep within David Allen.
As the first tendrils of cosmic power began to tingle around her, Daria closed her eyes, and let a flow of mental force, of something beyond life, an Equation of mathematical perfection rise up from deep within herself, from a portal that she herself was, a portal that led to somewhere – or something – else...
loneliness + alienation + fear + despair + self-worth ÷ mockery ÷ condemnation ÷ misunderstanding x guilt x shame x failure x judgment n=y where y=hope and n=folly, love=lies, life=death, self=dark side
She let the formula roll continuously through her mind, through her body, through every cell, every strand of DNA, through every thought and memory that made up the being that was Daria Morgendorffer; she felt the energy that was coming from David Allen Farrington, and somehow she knew what it was. It was unrestrained passion, bidding everything it touched to soar free, a joyous commonality of personal expression that seemed as one with David Allen in a perfect, transcendent harmony; it was the Force that was Fire, and Life Incarnate, everything she somehow knew she was not...
...And the only force that could stand against it was something that seemed to form an equally perfect, glorious unity with everything that she was; a force of solid, cold reason, binding everything about herself and beyond in Ordnung, a perfect, collective control and organization over All That Is, promising safety and security in All That Is Known and All That Will Be Known. It was a promise of comfort through unyielding order, one manifesting itself as an Equation... an Equation of Anti-Life.
The Phoenix Force and the Anti-Life Equation met and struck out against one another; David Allen suddenly smiled, and dropped from the sky in front of Daria. He let the power of the Phoenix Force fall away from him for a moment – and as Daria hesitated, unsure of his intent, his lips touched hers.
The Anti-Life Equation fell away from Daria in an instant, withdrawing; the sense of Hope that burned deep within the young woman's soul driving it away as all light drives away darkness.
David Allen wrapped Daria in a blister of pure psionic force, struggling as she hung in midair, as a rain of blinding electrical bolts rained all around him. "Hey! Mr. Wannabe-Cool Name! Get your lips and your cheap jacket away from my sister!"
[First of all, it's not a name - it's a ranking,] David Allen said, turning to face Quinn as she threw another torrent of electricity in his direction – and he absorbed it without a thought. [Second – just because you're not into this brand of lips doesn't mean it's not EXACTLY what she's needed all along.]
Quinn ignited the air in a direct line between herself and David Allen as she poured a single electrical arc at the cadet, one so bright that everyone else in the area had to turn away from or risk being blinded – and she shrieked in surprise as he walked directly up to her, touched her forehead with one finger and cut off her power.
[Third. It probably does sound silly to a cool girl like you – so don't think about it. Let's focus instead on what I can do.]
David Allen looked Quinn directly in the eye. [This is the part where you go 'Ow.']
Screams of pure horror from the other female Legionnaires were drowned out by the sound of Quinn's soul-shredding cry of torment as David Allen smiled at her; she was jerked upward and in an instant, her body separated outwards into horrifically graphic, Quinn-sized sections - as if she were suddenly turned into a living anatomical study model, with each of the twelve major organ systems of her body completely severed from all of the others to stand alone, yet still living and active! "I think men all across the world are in for a surprise, " he said, walking up to the pulsing organ that floated in midair with the rest of Quinn's cardiovascular system, as it turned slowly in midair along the long axis, just as the other separated biological systems did. "It appears that you actually have a heart. Who knew?"
Quinn's eyes moved about in a grotesque manner, following David Allen as he walked up to her. "I've read up on you, Quinn. You'll notice that, unlike the mystics that find you appealing – we psychics just don't have eyes for you."
Daria's face turned white as she watched Quinn's eyes detach from the optic nerves, and shoot off on opposite directions into the distance. "I never noticed the color of her eyes before," David Allen said, his face impassive as he stepped around Quinn's skeletal system. "One blue left – and one blew right."
The air around David Allen was suddenly alive with white-hot flame and blue energy channeled into an ultra-tight field of magnetism, and the ground in a perfect one-foot circle around the cadet instantly fused into glass as Jane-3, Tom and Mack fired their full power in unison at him at almost point-blank range!
The three Legionnaires stared down in shock as David Allen looked up at them – and gently shook his head.
Six seconds later, Jane-3 was screaming as she was fired off-Earth at escape velocity, encased in one of her own magnetic bubbles – and showed no sign of slowing down.
Six seconds after that, Mack found himself being flung through space at trans-light speeds as he hurtled along on a course that would take him into lunar orbit; his power was building inside him geometrically as the Phoenix Force poured an ocean of cosmic energies into him, with him unable to control them-
Back on Earth, the Legionnaires were treated to a spectacular solar eclipse as Mack went nova behind the Moon. [Hello, Thomas,] David Allen said, telekinetically yanking him out of the air. [This is pain.]
The young man screamed as the Black cadet grasped his head; a pencil-thin bolt of solar energy speared David Allen in the small of the back and turned his attention away from Tom. [The Mirror of Archimedes. Nice touch, Charles.]
The cadet looked into the distance at the parabolic mirror – one the size of a football field – that impossibly hung motionless in the air a half-mile away. [My turn.]
David Allen opened his mouth, and a tightly channeled beam of sonic force swept across the field of battle, liquefying everything it came into contact with and blowing the remnants of Charles' shattered form off into the distance. [See how lucky you were, Thomas? That's what Julia had in store for you. Now, I'm going to do to you what you, Jane and Daria were eventually going to do to one another – and play with your mind.]
He held up his hand – and Tiffany found herself being forcefully pulled from the ground behind him as she was preparing to strike. [First, I'm going to give this young lady what she's always been afraid of – and yet, what she really needs. Gravitas. A little weight, if you will.]
Tiffany began to bloat outwards in a sickening manner, her body ballooning and contorting beyond obesity as she began to sink into the ground beneath her feet. [By the way,] he continued, capturing Charles' molecules and restructuring him into a giant vanity mirror that floated above Tiffany, who was several feet deep in the earth at this point, [That outfit doesn't make you look fat – being fat does. However, this does reflect well upon you.]
"Stop it, Cadet Farrington. The power trip – and the bad puns."
The Phoenix Effect began to fade from around David Allen – and the Black telepath recognized the sensation behind his power's depleting itself. "I'm not finished, Fortune," he said, re-energizing his powers. "I can beat them all myself."
"It is finished," Rafael said, landing behind David Allen and walking towards him as Lindy landed just after the Alliance's leader. "This is a combat simulation, not the real thing, and you've already beaten her. I know that you can sense Morgendorffer's extra power has already faded out – and I can see it on my readout from your Mark 30."
The Latino cadet put his hand on his friend's shoulder, and David Allen turned to look at his teammates. "It's just the three of us. Yes, we could probably win against them – you are beating on your own – but they got this far honorably, and win or lose, the Alliance is a team. We win or lose together. If we take this any further, today – if you keep going - we're just bad sports, and that's not us. That's not what the Old Man wanted us to be."
Lindy went to her teammate. "It's over, David Allen. Even in here, you control the Phoenix – it doesn't control you. The Phoenix loves those sensations – fighting, struggling – it wants to continue, but you're the one in control. It's your choice. It will always be your choice."
The cosmic flames that signified the Phoenix Effect diminished and vanished; Lindy pinched David Allen's left earlobe as the Legionnaires all reappeared together, back in their normal appearances, in the signature flashing of his teleport ability. "I could have won it for us," he said.
"See, that's a naval aviator speaking," Lindy chided. "You should have come with me into the Corps of Engineers – better mindset."
"I'll get cuter girls with gold wings and a white dress uniform," David Allen shot back, and received another pinch on his earlobe.
Rafael took a step towards the Legionnaires. "Time out," Rafael said, holding up his hand - and Quinn, her body blazing with power, held her fire.
She turned to Daria, whose eyes had gone completely black, and touched her sister on the shoulder. "Daria. It's over. I think. God, I hope so."
Daria turned slowly to look at Quinn, and the black in her eyes drained back into her pupils. "Quinn," Daria murmured, allowing her sister to keep her from falling. "I was so cold... I don't want to ever do that again..."
Quinn rubbed her eyes, and then glared at David Allen. "You think I do?"
Rafael looked back at the standing members of his team, and held out his hand to Quinn. "I'd say honor's been served. Last man standing – or do we call it a draw, Morgendorffer?"
Quinn looked into Rafael's eyes, and glanced back at the Legionnaires. The electrical arcs that flowed across her body disappeared, and reached out to shake his hand.
"Call it a draw."
Their hands came apart-
Quinn's eyes opened – and in that moment, she found herself, along with the other Legionnaires, back in the VR simulator chamber.
She looked around, then sat back in her chair and let her body relax.