LLH 12.7 – 'Behind Blue Eyes'
There's one thing no one has understood about what happened in Chamberlain on Prom Night. The press hasn't understood it, the scientists at Duke University haven't understood it, David Congress hasn't understood it – although his The Shadow Exploded is probably the only half-decent book written on the subject – and certainly the White Commission, which used me as a handy scapegoat, did not understand it.
This one thing is the most fundamental fact. We were kids.
Carrie was seventeen, Chris Hargensen was seventeen, I was seventeen. Tommy Ross was eighteen, Billy Nolan (who spent a year repeating the ninth grade, presumably before he learned how to shoot his cuffs during examinations) was nineteen... Older kids react in more socially acceptable ways than younger kids, but they still have a way of making bad decisions, of overreacting, of underestimating.
...In the wake of two hundred deaths and the destruction of an entire town, it is so easy to forget one thing: We were kids. We were kids. We were kids trying to do our best...
-Susan Snell, from My Name is Susan Snell (cross-referenced from DELPHI 'Project Uatu' file SK-1-1974-23/CW-Alpha)
No one knows what it's like
To be the bad man
To be the sad man
Behind blue eyes
And no one knows
What it's like to be hated
To be fated to telling only lies
But my dreams they aren't as empty
As my conscience seems to be
I have hours, only lonely
My love is vengeance
That's never free
No one knows what its like
To feel these feelings
Like I do, and I blame you
No one bites back as hard
On their anger
None of my pain and woe
Can show through...
- from 'Behind Blue Eyes', by Limp Biskit
"The 'burden of civilization' is on us."
"Oh, yeah. Bitchin, isn't it?"
- Samantha and D.M.K., from Night of the Comet
"Well – that was interesting," said Admiral Martin Harriman as he turned slowly in his chair, briefly looking over the clipboard with several sheets of paper attached.
"May I make a recommendation before you begin to jump down the collective neck of your cadets?" Colonel Kyle Armalin asked, watching the expression on his friend's face for a few moments before speaking. "You've probably already received some blistering feedback on their actions."
"You could say that. The President's National Security Advisor is screaming bloody murder – despite almost thirty years of USAES students, apparently this was the first time she ever bothered to watch a simulation. The sad thing is that this was a basic urban combat scenario - no personal armaments or armor for the cadets, equally-matched forces, no aerial or ground units - the people whining about this would probably soil themselves if they saw the real-life 'Midway' scenario we run the graduating ground-pounding cadets through. Just the number of Cyberroid AI combat units alone would freak her out; since we program in 35-to-1 ratios, depending on the number of cadets in the program, we've had times where we've thrown over three hundred Cyberroids at them."
"You tell that ultraliberal bi- please tell the National Security Advisor that we're running a military installation that's supposed to turn out members of the Armed Forces of the United States of America, not tour guides who use stern language and wear silk gloves when they direct the bad guys to the location of the high-security vault and the bedchambers of the President's twin daughters," Armalin snarled.
The last few members of the USAES staff that had delayed leaving after the scenario exchanged curious glances, noticing how Armalin used the term 'we're' instead of 'you're', and then began to file out. "You've been quiet through all of this, Mr. Luthor," the Admiral spoke up, addressing the tall, handsome man sitting in the front row – the only person besides them still in the theatre. "Opinions?"
"The scenario looks vicious, inhuman and cruel," Lionel Luthor said, turning to face the two officers. "Inform the National Security Advisor that effective military training usually is – that's why it works. We put your people through the worst imaginable now, so they can deal when the real thing hits them later."
"LuthorCorp is the provider for our VR tactical simulation systems," the Admiral explained to Armalin, all three men rising as Lionel smoothed out his beard walked over. "Lionel Luthor - Colonel Kyle Armalin."
"We've met - a martial arts competition in Seoul," Lionel said, shaking hands. "The Colonel makes quite an impression – especially with the kodachi."
"I remember that you walked away with a respectable ranking yourself," Armalin allowed. "Your son's doing well, I trust?"
"Yes, he is," Lionel said. "I spoke with Miss Elliot in Washington last night and she mentioned this, so I flew in to see for myself. You've done some wonderful work with those kids, by the way, Colonel – but you know that Elliot and her ilk are not happy about the use of metahuman assets. They prefer their weapons to be less capable of personal opinion – and to be secured in ways and places that they can control completely. That's why the current administration hasn't been as, shall we say, open with the purse strings as they could be."
The Admiral turned to Armalin, who turned to him with a questioning glance. "We've had to become more self-sufficient than one would expect of a federal military academy – the appropriations bill for USAES ran into problems in committee last year," he agreed. "Still, this will just give her a bit more to harp upon."
"Oh, and she will," Lionel said, sipping from his glass of ice water. "I particularly enjoyed her comment on – how did she phrase it? - the way USAES 'is nothing more than a cross between a government-funded 'Animal House' and a Saturday-morning cartoon stuck out in a cornfield masquerading as a military academy, with a bunch of oversexed, overpowered and under-managed children who lack the necessary discipline and oversight required to ensure that their abilities are directed in the proper fashion for the good of the country.'"
"You see, this is the problem with civilians who don't like the military but have power over it," the Admiral growled. "Elliot ignores the research benefits and practical applications that have come out of Academy cadets – both on studying and training them and the warehouses of technology they've developed here – but can't wait to leap on anything remotely negative that happens. Also – point out to me a crop of normal, healthy teenagers of both sexes kept in close quarters within a high-stress, physically challenging environment who aren't thinking about sex, no matter how well-disciplined they are, and I'll point you towards a funeral home that gives great volume discounts."
Armalin scowled as he spoke. "The way she phrased that, one could wonder why you don't have a pregnancy problem here."
"That's because we address that issue right off," Admiral Harriman said bluntly. "Every cadet coming into the USAES First Academy takes a mandatory one-semester course in human sexuality as a fourth-year or in their first semester - and we sugarcoat nothing. They take a one-month refresher course during their first semesters as Second Years and as Cadets Fifth Class in the Elite Academy - we provide birth control with no questions asked - and we've gone above and beyond in providing discreet, absolutely confidential medical care and counseling for cadets on the issue."
"Nevertheless, Admiral – you do not have a friend in Naomi Elliot," Lionel said. "I would take great care in dealing with her, for she would like nothing more than to shut your Academy down, or better yet – put it under the control of persons who believe as she does. This episode does not help your cause any; as a friend of mine is fond of saying, 'It's all about perception' – and hers is that you are creating teams of uncontrollable berzerkers. You may wish to work on that perception."
"We will," said the Admiral.
"Then I'll be on my way," the billionaire said. "I want to see your Cadet Farrington before I leave; his mother and I have been friends for some time."
As Luthor departed the room, Armalin turned back to his friend. "Luthor is right. You ought to tell the National Security Advisor that if she wants to tell you how to train your cadets, she needs to rent block-and-tackle to hoist her wide behind out of her plush chair, and get out here to actually spend time on the campus learning about it first-hand."
"I see that someone hasn't forgotten what uniform he's been wearing," the Admiral replied. "However – it gets worse. It seems that there are a number of - certain people -who resoundingly approve of Farrington's actions, especially your old friend Bakeson. He's already put in a request that, upon their graduation next year, Farrington and Robertson be assigned to his personal staff in D.C. as his personal pilot and staff medic."
"Lovely." Armalin looked over the clipboard passed to him; his burst of temper bleeding away as he looked it over.
"Well, he won't get Farrington, at least – after graduation next year, he's going to medical school. Harvard and Johns Hopkins are about to have a shooting war over him, but he's thinking of Stanford or UCLA. He wants 'out of the cornfield'".
Armalin actually laughed. "Okay. As I was about to say – don't stomp on them too hard for this. Well – don't stomp too hard on Farrington too hard for what happened. Over the top – certainly. Effective – without a doubt." His expression darkened. "As for Robertson – get a new pair of boots."
"I'd ask if you were going soft on Farrington, if we weren't both 'disciples of Xavier'."
Armalin nodded at the Admiral's comment. "-And if not for the fact that we've both been around, well, a telepath or two that's taken a few steps over the line. This kid isn't like you were, Kyle. He's a nice kid, and the government's put far too much of an investment into him for us to do anything - permanent – especially because of his actions in one simulation."
Armalin let the comment pass. "Nothing like this ever has ever happened before with Farrington?"
"No – he's carrying a 3.96 – double major in pre-med and aeronautics. Here's my problem - he stomped on a group of civilians. If he'd plowed through another group of cadets like that, everyone would mark it down as a learning experience, and the other group would probably work on anti-psi measures, come up with new tactics, and go up against them again. That's the funny thing; if this had happened against anyone other than the Legion – it would probably be the beginning of another team, because they'd want to work together to beat 'The Alliance'." The Admiral stretched a bit. "So, that's what Richard was going for by having those kids together for all of those years. He was creating a group like the Legionnaires... a decade earlier."
"We've got the P.O.G.O. teams-"
"Richard was always of a mind that we should have something more. He wanted a more public-oriented group of metas – something like Xavier's groups, but operating in the public sphere."
Armalin switched gears suddenly. "Is Farrington that powerful on a regular basis?"
"Yes and no," was the reply. "Everything up to that kiss was all him – but afterwards... well, you know that telepaths and illusionists can enter VR and work with it as if it's actual reality, and because of your electric Legionnaire, the scenario was far different than usual. They had to exponentially expand the parameters of the simulation to allow for Morgendorffer to absorb power from the Earth's magnetic field – in fact, you might want to speak with her about not doing that in real life. As for Farrington - in a regular VR run, he wouldn't have been able to go all out like that. He'd try – he's a stubborn kid who doesn't like to give up and he likes the adrenalin rush a bit too much – but he couldn't act out the way Jean's avatar did, all those years ago."
"Speaking of that kiss, I didn't know that Morgendorffer – either of them – were capable of those power levels," Armalin said.
"Neither did we," the Admiral told him. "Your telepath takes a Mark 30 home with her and she uses it. This is not a discussion, Colonel."
Armalin let out a slow breath before he answered. "Agreed."
"If you don't want her on a government leash for the rest of her life, then I strongly recommend that you take her to see someone who can help her learn how to keep her powers under control – and yes, I know how hypocritical that may sound, all things considered."
"Not so much," Armalin allowed, as his mind flashed back to a report he'd written many months beforehand:
I have now met the great Daria
Morgendorffer and survived. Hostile, hostile, hostile! The world is wrong and
only Daria Morgendorffer is right. I should be honored to kiss her Doc Martens,
I suppose. You only meet one Jesus in your lifetime.
Many times, attempted to turn the tables and interrogate me instead! This girl has massive problems with authority figures and we are already off on the wrong foot and hopping down the racecourse. She has seen psychologists of all types...and she's smart enough to read them and bullshit them. You've better have a sharp mind and powerful willpower to take this girl on. And she's the psi, and that scares me like you wouldn't believe.
She uses her intelligence as a weapon. It can be a rapier one minute and a club the next, and she's looking for you to fall flat so you can be judged unworthy and she can treat your value as a human being as worthless for the rest of her life. An intellectual bigot.
I suspect Daria is intellectually lazy. She's been so smart and so talented for so long that she's never had to make allowances for other people. When she encounters things that she can't do and that she won't be able to effortlessly master -- and she will encounter them -- something will happen. WHAT I don't know.
I guess we all found out what would happen, he thought, mentally flipping through that report. Well, at least one good thing came out of this – it's clear that the sisters don't hate one another. Quinn actually stepped up for her sister, the way Daria apparently did for her after that mercenary 'Red' tried to molest and mutilate Quinn.
Armalin shuddered inwardly; he wasn't happy about how he had found that out – or that, because of Black Majesty's 'Charm of Making' – his own telepathic power had been restored.
Nonetheless, I will have to make an effort to find that 'gentleman', his associates, the person who sent them – and explain to them that one is not allowed to lay their hands upon my charges. I'll have to get some of the boys from Old Stanley's to help with that, too.
He let a memory of swift and brutal justice in an inner-city neighborhood against an unsuspecting gang fade away as he refocused on the Legionnaires. They also learned a valuable lesson that they should be thankful they didn't get in real life – that all the Legionnaires should be thankful for. When Hell opens up and sends demon knights for them – and it will – the bad guys won't hold back. They just learned that – for the moment – they're not the toughest kids on the block.
Another segment of memory flashed through his mind – a conversation he'd had with Daria:
"I have mental powers."
"That's perfectly fine...until you bump into someone else with mental powers."
"Do those people...exist?"
"Oh yes," said the Marine. "They exist."
"You know, the case could be made that those cadets could have smashed the entire Legion almost as soon as they entered the simulation."
The Admiral snorted off a laugh. "Kids who have the chance are doing exactly that. On a lighter note - I was wondering if you would debrief my cadets at the time you debrief your Legionnaires. It'll give them a perspective most of my people can't give them – that of an active-duty operative and an instructor."
"I can do that," Armalin said, finishing his glass of root beer. "Oh, I have a few comments for Robertson. Where are they, anyway? I mean, the Legionnaires."
The Admiral let a deep breath flow out of him. "Your kids are in one of the 'TIDE-pools' about now, so it'll be an hour or so before they're ready for your critique on their exercise."
"Oh, yeah. The TIDE-pools." Armalin shook his head. "I knew there was a reason I always liked the 'Danger Room' more."
Cadet Second Class Sherrie Klein – Quinn's roommate, and the cadet that had so boldly moved in on Trent when he arrived – walked into the packed theatre hall within Boruszkowsi Hall, wincing at the sound of cheering and applause. "What's going on?" she asked a first-year, who was leaning against a wall in the standing-room-only area.
"You don't know?" the cadet said, suddenly slack jawed. "The Legionnaires went heads-up with Vargas and his crew! It was like something out of the Justice Guild movies – you gotta see it – How come the Academy doesn't have something like them already, a team that we could all try to be a part of? That would be off the chain – being in a team of superheroes like that!"
The cadet suddenly looked at Sherrie strangely. "Wait a minute – you didn't see the fight? How come?"
Sherrie gave the cadet a nonchalant shrug of her shoulders. "I had other things to work on. Took a little longer than I thought."
The cadet turned away. "I hope it was worth it."
A wonderful smile flowed over the female cadet's face as she turned and went back through the doors. "It was."
Inside the raucous atmosphere inside Club 107, Dr. Richard Lobinske smiled from his shaded little booth as he sipped his drink, and watched the promo on the video screen promising a replay of the 'Legion vs. Alliance' brawl in thirty minutes.
He looked up as he saw the man who had bet on Mack to get more 'kills' than anyone else jumping around and whooping with happiness; Richard found out later that the man had won more than five million dollars on his bets.
Louise will be happy with our bet, he thought. Almost a million dollar payout on a two-hundred-dollar bet – and as long as she doesn't use her precognitive power too often on things like this, no one notices. Besides, Club 107 gets their ten-percent off the top for 'special arrangements' that allow people with powers like hers to bet on occasion – as long as they keep their winnings below a certain level.
We can't make another bet in any legitimate establishment for the next three years – but it's worth it.
"Now, that was a fight!"
Richard turned to the booth beside his, where a group of four women were downing strawberry margaritas as they watched the event. "God, did you see all of that prime young beef?" asked one of the ladies – a sleek woman with an Australian accent and roving eyes. "All of that action makes me want to, you know – go a little crazy myself."
The woman looked around the room; her eyes settled on Richard, and she all but burned his clothing off with her gaze.
Laughing, Richard stood up and tossed a few bills on the table. "Hey," the Australian woman said, abandoning discretion as she looked him over. "You're not leaving now, are you? Why don't you stay?"
She brushed her hair back, her eyes filled with animal hunger as she looked him over once again. "You could come play with us."
Richard looked the group of attractive women over, and smiled at them. "Can't. Married. Take it seriously. The wife would know if I strayed."
Without thinking, Jodie Landon wiped a thick gob of bright purple bird droppings from her hair.
She was walking towards her family home, a biography of Tavis Smiley in hand as she read and walked, when a Northern Cardinal – strangely enough, it was a rich, vibrant Tyrian purple instead of the usual bright red color – perched on the branches of a tree nearby began to watch her, it's eyes glittering strangely... as if it were studying her. The bird had sat there for over an hour, watching other humans and animals, and when several boys had started throwing rocks and sticks at it, it dove in at them and scattered them.
As she approached the porch, the bird seemed to almost wait for her to pass directly beneath-
"Oh, great," Jodie groaned, taking a napkin from her book-bag to wipe traces of bird droppings off her forehead, her blouse and her hair. "I need to take a shower now..."
She rushed inside her home, not paying attention to the very low, tingling sensation that was beginning to reach out from the places hit by the offending bird's doody-bombs – particularly from her scalp. "Great. Can this day get any worse?"
The female Legionnaires were changing into scarlet one-piece swimsuits with black and white trim – the USAES school colors, Daria had heard – when Julia, Maryann and Zoey (who wore a particularly contrite expression on her face) came around a block of lockers to face them.
"Excuse me," Julia said, actually flinching at the hostile looks she and her teammates received. "Can we talk? I – we – want to-"
"Piss... off," Tiffany growled, her expression venomous as she gave Zoey a look that could kill; on another bench, Jane's expression was equally deadly as her eyes flicked between Zoey and Maryann.
Julia looked around to see mostly angry faces. "Fine."
She started to turn away but found her path blocked by Maryann, who motioned for her to turn right back around; Zoey cleared her throat. "I'm sorry for acting like a bitch today."
"That actually sounded honest."
Every eye turned towards Quinn. "Do you guys always act like complete jerks, or was that little show just for us?"
Julia turned back to the other redhead in the room. "Actually – yes."
Quinn looked her directly in the eye. "Which one?"
Julia leaned against a locker. "First things first. We're sorry about the whole 'shock and awe' thing – we really are – but you've have to look at it from our point of view."
"That... you're... asses...?"
"Tiffany." The Asian Legionnaire went silent as Quinn spoke her name, and then turned back to Julia. "Go on..."
"Look, we've been watching you guys and what you've been doing ever since Colonel Armalin started training you – longer, if you consider how some people all over are big Legion fans." Julia's eyes met Quinn's, who was sure that she was remembering yelling at the two young cadets for wearing Quinn's Legion lapel pins. "You guys have this huge rep – especially you, going head-to-head with a Class Five mystic – everyone's all gaga over all of you, and we're thinking that you were going to come into the run like some sort of cross between the Valkyrior and the hordes of Thulsa Doom, ready to stomp us into a thin red paste."
"Some of us didn't," Zoey said, looking over at Sandi. "I was wrong. Nice finishing move, Griffin."
Julia and Maryann turned to stare at their teammate, as if miniature pink elephants had just flown out of her left nostril. "I have to remember that one."
Zoey turned and walked away; Jane tapped Maryann on the shoulder. "Was that her way of apologizing?"
"That was her way of saying she considers Griffin a worthy opponent," Maryann said, a touch of awe in her voice. "We're her teammates, and we're lucky she considers us worthy of the right to exist in her presence. You know – I can teach you how to keep other people from getting through your shields like that. I've worked with Alison Cockrum, she's got powers like yours – she has this trick of constantly rotating and reinforcing her shields so that no one attack can break through."
Jane was silent for a moment, considering what was said. "Stop hitting on my boyfriend and it's a deal."
"Okay – besides, I was wondering about that other guy, Mackenzie," Maryann said, her eyes becoming slightly unfocused as she let an image of Mack roll into her mind. "God, his hands are huge..."
"Warning for you. He's got a girlfriend."
"One of you? Oh, come on!" she pouted. "You've got Sloane, every girl in sight wants a shot at Charles-"
"Still can't figure that one out," Quinn said, and Julia snorted with laughter.
"-And he's taken, too? God! You guys have everything – a cool plane, your own headquarters, fans all over, a billionaire in your back pocket and cute, cute guys! What don't you guys have?"
"Abs like yours," Jane said, looking down at Maryann's midsection. "Damn, you could deflect bullets off there, and you have trouble attracting guys because...?"
"Oh, I have no trouble attracting them. It's just that very few of them measure up. You know what I mean. Most guys have problems with girls who are into fitness – and how many guys can keep up with you on a ten-K run?"
Jane's eyes lit up. "You run?"
"Oh, yeah. Five miles every morning - there's this really great path over in Evansville that I try to run at least three times a week, otherwise, I'm stuck on the Academy track with guys leering at my backside."
Brittany, surprisingly quiet during the entire exchange, spoke up. "Ooooooh - I hate that! Always staring at you – ugh!"
"That's one reason why we have separate TIDE-pools for after VR runs," Julia said, walking over to Quinn. "Look, Morgendorffer – Quinn – we were just trying to show that we're just as good as you – we were showing off some. Okay. We were showing off a lot, and it was stupid of us. We're not like this-"
Maryann cleared her throat loudly. "We're not like this all of the time-"
The sound of a throat being cleared made Julia throw Maryann a cross look and the Legionnaires – save Tiffany and Daria – smirk. "Okay! Most of us aren't like this, but on occasion – yes, I can have a bit of an attitude-"
"Some of us call her 'Duchess,'" Maryann said, instantly catching Quinn's attention. "You should see the pictures of her family's last formal get-together; it's like a cross between a royal coronation and a blueblood wedding. There's a photo of Julia in her formal dress, with this high collar made of lace and a corset-"
"Thank you," Julia snapped, her face almost as red as her hair. "Maryann, why don't you let your feet move like your lips do and show them the pool?"
Maryann pointed in the direction of Julia's feet. "She wears size eleven shoes."
All eyes went to Julia's feet; she sat down, grabbed a towel and covered them. "I do not!" she shrieked, her blush reaching her toes.
"If she didn't use her wings, she could glide with her feet."
Laughter followed the group of young women out of the locker room; Daria stopped as Julia grasped her arm. "I know that you're going to carry a grudge for a while," she said, standing up, "but whatever feelings that you have towards the rest of us and even with what he did – give David Allen a break. You've had your powers for just over a year or so, but he was born with his powers switched on. As bad as you've had things – you have no idea what it's been like for him. Not making excuses; just – just try to see things from his side."
Julia left, and after a moment, Daria followed her out. Neither of them even noticed that Tiffany was still there... with hard eyes, and lips pressed in a thin, angry line.
"I'm... going... to... get... him..."
"Total Immersion Decompression Enhancement," Maryann said, as she walked out of the changing area with her female teammates and the female Legionnaires into the pool area. "This is the fun part of going into VR – having to spend time in the TIDE-pools afterwards."
"What's so special about going swimming, especially after going through something like that?" Daria asked, following Jane over to the edge of the pool.
"Well, we could let you guys find out the hard way, but that would be cruel," Julia snickered, pushing her hair beneath a swim cap as she stepped from the dressing area.
"You know all of those movies that say 'if you die in VR, you die for real?' It doesn't work that way. You'd have to ask Zoey, Kelly or David Allen how it works because they're the big brains on the team, but short form – VR is the ultimate psychosomatic experience. You can have physical experiences, develop physical skills or even develop your real-world physical form through VR experiences; but while VR can fool your body - your brain still recognizes, on some level, that it isn't real. You can get the crap beaten out of you, but you can't die. You'll be out for a while, but that's about it."
"Excuse me – but if it's all in your mind, then how can you actually exercise in VR and have it affect your body in real life?"
Julia smiled, but her thoughts blasted out and made Daria cringe. I thought that some of the girls I grew up with were full of themselves! If I actually didn't care about what David Allen thought-
"Psychosomatic, remember? Your body feels like it has done that, even though it hasn't in real life – and the pain you're going to feel... that's what the TIDE pools are for. They're five feet deep, with specialized hypersonic emitters built into the sides and floor of the pool, and you try to move about as much as you can."
Julia dived into the pool, followed by the rest of the Alliance girls; Jane shrugged and hopped in, with Stacy, Brittany, and Sandi following her in. "Hey, Daria! Take your glasses off and come on in!" Carolyn called out, rising up from the middle of the pool. "You won't like the way your first VR experience feels afterwards, if you don't do the therapy!"
Scowling, Daria was about to take her glasses off when a "Wow! Where did THAT come from?" spun her around, and she turned back to see Jane hopping up and down in the water- and similar reactions from the other Legionnaires. "Jane? What's wrong?"
"You've got to feel it to believe it!" Jane cackled. "Come on in – the water's NEVER been this much fun!"
Daria put her glasses down next to her towel; moments later, she slowly slipped into the warm waters of the TIDE-pool - and gasped as every inch of her body below the waters was suddenly awash with a wonderful sensation... "What is this, a giant hot tub?"
"No, silly," Maryann said, from the other side of the pool. "The entire pool is a giant myostimulator wave generation unit; it gives your body the workout it thinks it got in VR, while the water acts as like a buffer for the waves and cushions the added stress of you moving around. If you don't do the pool therapy after coming out of VR, you'll start having body-wide psychosomatic muscle spasms... bad ones."
"VR even affects me like that," Kelly said, rising up from the water and bobbing about. "They restrict VR training to Elite Academy students only – and the first time you go in, they don't put you in the pool afterwards, so you can see how it feels."
The Legionnaires noticed that all of the Alliance girls shuddered as one over that thought. "Man, you guys are lucky," Lindy told them. "The Professor wouldn't let us do pool therapy for the first week of our VR training, and for the rest of our first year, we only got a third of the time in the pool that anyone else did. Building up our endurance, in case we have to do a session somewhere else and get no therapy afterwards – there's reports of some people being interrogated in VR and subjected to serious physical torture - and then being left to go through the spasms in real life afterwards. We've logged far more time in VR than almost anyone else around here who isn't a cyberpath; most cadets do the required semester of VR training and then stay away from it like the plague."
Daria watched as Tainn and a couple of female cadets left the dressing room in USAES swimsuits and slipped into the pool. "They were helping run the VR simulation," Lindy continued, "from inside another VR chamber. They need the therapy, too."
"You're all Cadets Second Class – you guys can't have more than three years of training," Stacy said, running numbers in her head. "You said that only the Elite Academy gets it, and you guys did internships last year-"
Zoey barked off a laugh. "Everyone in The Alliance has had six years of VR training," she said, swimming past as she did a perfect, lazy backstroke. "The Professor started us in VR training as third-year cadets. He got into trouble for it when we were First Years – some brownnose navy commander found out and reported him. Turned out that he was a bad guy himself, and only found out because he was swiping VR data records of all of the cadets, their powers and training scenarios – he dropped a dime on us because he figured that the Professor would take the rap."
"He didn't know that the professor had had all of us in individualized training for a couple of years by then," Julia laughed, floating past Stacy. "I found his files, made a complete copy as evidence, and then pointed the Feds towards where he was."
Brittany managed to get past the sensations running through her body long enough to ask, in a breathless manner, "How?"
Julia smiled a catlike smile at Brittany. "I'm a thief!"
Lindy stopped paddling about. "Be nice, Julia. Everyone's got a special talent or skill-set – the professor wanted to make sure that we had almost any eventuality covered. Julia's not joking; she's a recovery specialist - our resident 'Olivia Twist'. Picking locks, cracking safes, picking pockets, high-rise jobs, boosting cars, hacking computers – if you need something filched, she's the one."
Julia stood up and did a tiny curtsy. "Thank you, thank you. No tips, please – I'll clean out your wallets later."
Daria shrugged. "I see the government's getting its money's worth."
Julia smiled at her; Daria caught the word Bitch! projected from the attractive cadet with an almost physical force. "Actually, they got a real deal – they get two years extra from me when I go into the FBI. I'm the youngest one of us in the Alliance. I'm only eighteen – won't even be twenty when I get my badge next May."
She winked at Daria. "I also have a few brain cells that work reasonably well together."
Stacy dog-paddled past her. "So, you learned how to steal so you could catch other crooks."
"It's not stealing - if you're doing it for Uncle Sam." Julia's smile grew even wider, and she dove beneath the waters.
Lindy turned back to the others. "Anyway, they found out the guy was going to sell the records to somebody in South America, or something – so they court-martialed him and threw him into prison. Serves him right."
Maryann rose from the bottom of the pool and stretched herself as a deep, satisfied groan clawed its way out of her throat. "Ummmmm... I love tide-pool therapy," she said, voicing a thought going through the minds of several of the young women in the pool. "It's like having a 'Jackrabbit' the size of Mauna Kea. Almost makes up for not having a boyfriend right now – or anyone else's."
Jane rolled her eyes. Before I leave, Tom and I have to sneak in here... or, better yet, we have to get one of these built at Legion Tower.
"Where are the Legionnaires?"
"I told them that they should stay in the pool for at least another half-hour, Roman," Jeffrey said, calling the team leader of The Alliance by his nickname as he finished dressing in the locker area of the TIDE-pool the male Legionnaires and Alliance members were using. "We've got all the time we need. Damn, is it steamier in here than usual, or what?"
After they had all dressed, Rafael pointed the members of his team to a pair of benches in front of a set of lockers, and the four of them sat down. "David Allen – what you did in the combat simulation was uncalled for," he said, setting on the bench opposite his teammates. "It was petty, it was unprofessional, and it was beneath you. I don't care what any of them called you or what any of them said, that little show of yours was totally out of line and especially that stunt with Quinn Morgendorffer. I don't even want to know where you got the idea for that or just how long you've been waiting for a chance to use that on someone, do I?"
Jeffrey and Fabian looked away silently as David Allen looked Rafael straight in the eye as he was being dressed down. "No, you don't."
"What would the Professor say if he were here and saw the way you carried yourself in VR?"
David Allen blinked, and looked away. "He'd say that the only people that show off are the ones who have nothing worthwhile to show."
"He'd also remind you that you never make enemies that you don't have to. Blum-Deckler is going to come looking for you – I could see it in her eyes – and they're going to grill you hard during the debriefing. We were OpFor for the exercise and I can justify almost everything else that happened in the simulation - but you should have let the carrot top's comments wash over you and just stuck to business. You should have just psi-blasted her and put her out of the fight after you sealed off her sister, but, no – you wanted to make a statement, didn't you? 'Don't tease me, popular girl, or this is what you get.' What are you, twelve? GET OVER IT.'"
David Allen looked at him as if he wanted to say more, but stopped with, "Aye, sir."
"All right. Now, the part that I personally dislike. Do I bring this up before the Disciplinary Council, or will you accept the non-judicial punishment of the Deputy Cadet Commander of Corps, which means that this incident does not go on your record?"
Rafael looked his friend over. "Good – and since I'm deputy Three-C, you were getting that anyway."
He stood up. "One. Kiss weekend liberty goodbye until the end of the summer term. Two. Except for scheduled study, training and meal periods, as well as any special periods designated by USAES staff, you are restricted to quarters until the beginning of the summer term – no visitors. Three - you will write a letter of apology to each Legionnaire you assaulted – which will accompany the one that I, as your commanding officer, will also write apologizing for the actions of this unit and for my failure in keeping certain members under control, which will be presented to them before they leave. Four. Until the beginning of the summer term, except for when you are in psi-training periods – you will wear a Mark 40 compliance band."
Jeffrey's mouth dropped open, and Fabian was about to speak when Rafael held his hand up. "Your actions reflected poorly upon this country, this institution and the members of your unit. Most importantly, they reflected poorly upon the memory of the Professor. He would be ashamed of what you did today – and he would be ashamed of me for not keeping you from doing it."
The three cadets watched as Rafael opened his locker and brought out what looked like a simple, black digital watch; David Allen actually moved back as Rafael turned to him and held it out. "I'm sorry, David Allen, but you know the rules. Put it on."
David Allen took the device and strapped it on his left wrist; his eyes immediately lit up with an electric-blue glow, which then shifted to an ugly, burning red haze that faded out, leaving his eyes a touch more lifeless than before.
He dropped his head down as nausea rushed over him. "The rules are the rules for all of us, no matter who it is," Rafael said. "They'll let us know when they want to debrief us. Let's go."
The four cadets left, Jeffrey catching David Allen as he staggered slightly while rising from the bench; the locker area was silent for several moments before the steam coming from the showers coalesced into Charles.
"Oh, man...." said the coalescing steam....
Seated all around the small lecture hall, the cadets of the Alliance and the Legionnaires listened – and sometimes winced – as Colonel Armalin went over their exercise in detail, seeming to pick people at random to skewer. "One last thing, Ruttheimer. I'd love to tear you a new one for being distracted and taken out the way you were... the problem is, that particular trick is one of the oldest ones in the book, and that's because it works. Try to work on that, okay? As for you, Carlyle – try that Girls Gone Wild trick on a gay man, and you might find yourself getting blasted out of the sky. Try it on a lesbian, and you might find yourself in a stable relationship. Keep your clothes where they belong – unless it's actually necessary to flash someone."
Julia shrugged, and Armalin turned cool eyes on Zoey, who sat next to her. "Cadet Robertson. Rise."
Zoey rose from her seat and stood at attention. "Looking at this exercise before it was run - on simple statistics alone - your team was favored heavily to win, and with less than a forty-percent loss of your actives. In retrospect, you received a technical stalemate, with a seventy-percent loss of your active force INCLUDING all but one of your heavy assault units, and the only reason you didn't take NINETY-PERCENT losses was because your primary defense unit was able to effectively engage her powers AND because your leader's ability saved him through ACTUAL DUMB LUCK!"
Armalin took a breath. "Cadet Robertson – in your briefing prior to your encounter with the Legion, were you given any specific orders as to neutralization of certain targets within your opposition?"
Zoey took a breath before answering. "Yes, sir. We were ordered to take out Blum-Deckler, Griffin and Taylor in the first strike. They were our high-priority targets."
A sudden rumbling went through the Legion side of the lecture hall, and Armalin held his hand up for silence. "Why?"
"Blum-Deckler's psych-profile showed that she's the Legionnaire most likely to use lethal force in combat, and the other two are the Legion's best combatants. Between their skills and their powers, it was decided that taking them down in the first strike would severely cripple their forces."
"You're right. Had you followed your orders and followed your established plan of action, your team would have defeated them. Had you followed your orders, Griffin would have been removed – and she was directly or indirectly responsible for you losing almost a third of your team! Had you been flexing the one muscle you have that really matters, you could have engaged from a tactically advantageous position to personally inflict heavy casualties on your opposition – I see from review that you had the opportunity to disable or neutralize no less than six Legionnaires in your first strike."
He stopped to emphasize his point. "Had you not been operating under your own agenda - you could have ended this before it ever had a chance to begin."
Armalin climbed the stairs until he came to eye-level with the cadet, who stared straight ahead. "One. You were using your ninjitsu ability to shade yourself from sight so you could attack from behind – as soon as you saw Mackenzie take out Field, you should have neutralized him and then moved immediately to take out Griffin, Blum-Deckler, Sloane and both Morgendorffers. Had you done this, you wouldn't have lost teammates, gotten taken out yourself or put your fellow cadets in the position where their actions might be subject to disciplinary review. You screwed this up badly."
His eyes bore in on her. "Two. That activator is on your wrist for a reason. I could say that you shouldn't have engaged Griffin before you activated your battlesuit, but if you'd hit her when you had the chance, that wouldn't have been a problem. Three. If you'd hit her from a distance, she wouldn't have taken out you or your teammates. Refer again to number one. Four – your wanting to prove yourself in single combat against an opponent is and should always be a secondary concern to your main priorities: the mission, and doing whatever it takes to keep your teammates alive. Your ego got your friends wiped and turned this exercise into a goatscrew of monumental proportions. You need to think about that."
He paused. "FIVE. Let me assure you that if you ever disobey a direct order under my command and people are lost because of it – I will shoot you on the spot. Is that understood?"
Zoey stood rock-still. "Yes, sir."
"Good. Sit down."
Armalin started down the stairs, "By the way - you did do one thing right. Kicking Sloane in the groin first before spearing Lane and Blum-Deckler – and then, lifting them up into the air and throwing them. While you should have used containment or neural javelins on all three, your choice – in this matter – was not without merit. You'll find that psychological warfare is very effective in the field... but then, that's what Three-Delta was, wasn't it – Farrington?"
David Allen stood up, steadying himself on the desk. "Yes, sir"
"It was your idea to do things to mess with the Legionnaires' heads?"
"You used personal information on them to do that?"
"Did it bother you to search around in their backgrounds or use that information to play with these people's emotions, Farrington?"
"Yes, sir – it did."
"But you did it anyway."
"I'll do what I have to do to protect my team, sir."
Armalin walked over to the blackboard. "Are you familiar with the works of Angelinhel, Cadet Farrington?"
The cadet nodded; he thought for a moment. "Sometimes, unicorns have to die."
"You've been reading the right books, Cadet. Just remember – books and VR are not the real world. Contradictions and change are a constant in the field, and you'll have to live with the repercussions of your actions – even if you only have to deal with it by wrestling with your conscience."
He paused for a second. "I think that you've also learned a valuable lesson – one that we all should pay heed to. When you're in the field, keep it about business."
He turned and looked directly into Tiffany's eyes. "As we've all seen today – making it personal can lead to serious consequences."
The way Tiffany flinched made it very clear that she had gotten the message. "Now that we've cleared that up - Morgendorffer!"
"I am addressing the unofficial ambassador from 'Lawndale Power and Light'," he said, a slight smile on his face as Quinn and Daria, both slightly embarrassed, spoke in unison; near the back of the lecture hall, Jeffrey leaned over to Fabian with a smirk on his face.
"Sisters. My favorite form of the 'obstacle course."
"It's now 'the confidence course' – but you're right," the Japanese cadet whispered, a big smile on his face as he admired the way Daria brushed her hair back. "Shame that Peters hasn't made a move. That - is a very... pretty... girl."
"If either of you ever goes near a Morgendorffer, the three of us are going back into VR," Charles said softly, not even bothering to turn and face the two cadets he shared a table with, "and I'll finish on you what your friend started on Quinn."
As the two Alliance cadets suddenly went quiet, Quinn stood up, her face turning red at the Colonel's comment. "Miss Morgendorffer – in the future, if you feel the desire to blow things apart on the sub-atomic level, please be advised that your hosts should not be on that list. To my understanding, there already exist several mythological gods of thunder and/or lightning. Please understand that they do expect one to have one's high-school diploma before applying for a position, and absorbing the electrical potential from a planet is not recommended for mortals."
Armalin turned to Kelly, who was sitting in the first row, beside Carolyn and Lindy. "Cadet Springer. In the spirit of Miss Morgendorffer's comments to you on the battlefield, you also get three words from me. Learn to dodge."
An unplanned snickering from across the room caught Armalin's attention, and he turned to lock eyes directly on Tom. "Mister Sloane."
Tom went immediately silent as Armalin stepped up to the floor-level seat Tom sat in, next to Jane and Daria, and stood over him with the coldest of expressions. "Before laughing about the misfortunes of another person because of a preconceived notion which is actually based in hard, cold factual reality, I would consider, if I were you, that one - you were bitch-slapped down a street. Two – you were dropkicked across a river. Three – in the greatest tradition of Jackie Gleason, you were literally punched to the moon. If it were not for that one spectacular punch of yours and the fact that you saved most of your teammates when Springer returned from orbit, you and I would be having words later. In the meantime - do not push your luck."
He spared a glance for Jane. "By the way – nice work, Lane. You proved that three heads are better than one. You and Griffin should work more with the idea of her replicating you in battle; you don't seem to have a psychological problem with being replicated, and your 'doppelgangers' all work in harmony. I especially liked how you used that building to your advantage, and while potentially messy, that tactic with the trinary magnetic fields was very effective against your hostile – even more so when considering that you were not only able to think that up in the midst of combat, but that you were severely injured when you did it. Had you been wearing a uniform when you pulled that off, I would now be recommending you for a Bronze Star. If you were a cadet here, I would probably be presenting you with a commendation for your initiative, original thinking and steadiness under fire."
He started away. "I guess the only thing I can do is say, 'Outstanding work, Lane'."
The Colonel went back to the front of the room. "Let's take it from the top. Legionnaires – when you entered the city, you spent an unnecessary amount of time jabbering amongst yourselves, when you should have immediately formulated a plan. Morgendorffer, Griffin – Taylor shouldn't have come up with the plan, but in the future, when she does, implement it faster. Can we get the lights, please?"
The lights in the lecture hall went down, and Armalin picked up a remote control; pointing it at the large screen that lowered from the ceiling, he pushed a button on the remote to begin a tape of Tiffany being speared through the back by Zoey. "We'll start individual critiques of your performance with the Legionnaires, and in alphabetical order. Blum-Deckler - the same advice that I gave Springer goes for you, too. As you both found out today, just because your powers allow you a form of invulnerability doesn't mean you need to put it to the test. The best way to avoid a weapon's effect is to move out of the path of fire, or the area of reach and/or effect. Duck or dodge, people."
Another image appeared on screen. "Let's go through this one point-by-point..."
Just over five hours later, the members of The Alliance were shuffling out of the lecture hall, eyes slightly glazed over by the grilling they had all received at Colonel Armalin's hands. "If they have to go through that all the time, I'll have to give all of those Legion types a little more respect," Zoey said, drawing surprised looks from her fellow cadets. "Come on. When was the last time any of us went through that kind of debriefing, outside of an actual live-fire mission?"
"My point exactly – like I said the other day," Fabian said, walking past. "What if that's the level they've always been trained at, from Day One? They deserve a lot more respect than they've gotten from us. We don't need to treat them like celebrities – but we'd better remember that they are competition."
"Yeah," Lindy said, a morose look on her face. "If they didn't have a resume and a rep beforehand, they've got one now. Those three rogue metas, that Black Majesty guy – and us."
"You were right about something else, Zoey," Julia said, going over to her fellow cadet, "About those things they're wearing that they call 'uniforms' – 'ewwww.' I mean, seriously – 'Ewwww'. Thank God that I'm a cadet here, because the first thing I would do if I were in the Legion would be to say 'Ewwww. Who came up with the idea to wear these? I - am NOT – wearing one of these. I want to go outside on occasion, and I am NOT going to be laughed at as soon as someone lays eyes upon me!' I'd make them come up with something new as soon as I came aboard, and wear my Alliance jacket with a Legion logo until they did!"
"Someone thinks the world of herself, doesn't she?" Carolyn said, brushing off her beret as she walked past David Allen. "Someone always did," he replied, moving slowly down the hall before the slight feeling of vertigo forced him to stop for a moment.
"I heard both of you," Julia snapped; she stopped, and then went to David Allen. "Are you okay?"
"I'll be fine," he said; Julia's eyes dropped down to the compliance band on David Allen's wrist. "Oh, no."
"I'll be fine."
"No, you won't," she said, concern flowing from her. "Let me help you."
Rafael turned just as Julia's lips touched David Allen's cheek. "Julia, hold fast-!"
The moment her lips touched his skin, David Allen felt his entire body reinvigorate; Julia's profoundly powerful healing ability, carried out of her body through her saliva, drove away the sickening effects of the Mark 40. "Julia – don't do that again," Rafael said, his tone final. "Wearing that is a punishment. If you're going to kiss him, do it when he's not sick or about to die."
The others couldn't help but laugh at the look on Julia's face. "Being a Legionnaire's not something you'll have to worry about anyway, Julia – besides, the way you decorate, I'm sure that they wouldn't take kindly to you turning their Tower into your personal weekend getaway resort," Lindy snickered, drawing a sharp glare from Julia. "The Legion Tower is smaller than your family place, anyway – right, Maryann?"
"Pretty much," Maryann agreed, mentally measuring the Carlyle compound and Legion Tower. "You uber-rich types do manage to take up space... especially in those huge shoes you wear."
"Stop talking about my feet!"
"In the meantime – Zoey, David Allen – follow me." Rafael's voice left no doubt that he was to be obeyed immediately; the two cadets followed him down the hall as the others watched.
"Now, they're both in trouble," Lindy said. "All of the cadets think what we did was cool, and Colonel Armalin thinks we did right – why do the civilians think we did wrong in the simulation?"
"You just answered your own question," Carolyn said, watching as four other Phantom Eagles turned a corner and headed straight for them. "Excuse me..."
"Don't sound so depressed!" Jeffrey said, lifting Lindy's drooping head. "Look on the bright side – now, we have another place where we can have some real inter-school rivalry... and where we can date the students without having to worry about revealing our powers!"
"Excuse me, doofus – underage girls." Carolyn pointed out.
"No, they're not!" Jeffrey said, and before he could be stopped, he had opened the door to the lecture hall, where a very surprised Colonel Armalin (holding a very large manila envelope) turned to stare at him. "Excuse me, sir – this'll only take a moment. Hey – Rowe! How old are you!"
Stacy blushed as every eye in the room locked upon her. "I – oh, um, ahhh, I'm-"
"She's seventeen," the Colonel answered, before Stacy began to hyperventilate. "Why-?"
"I've got liberty this weekend! Wanna go on a date?"
"Well, since we never did have the chance to have a decent birthday party for Stacy, you could-"
"Classy," Julia's voice rang out from behind Jeffrey, cutting Quinn off mid-sentence; the male cadet winced as the redhead grasped him by the back of his collar and began to lead him off – but gasped as Jeffrey disappeared into super-speed and appeared in front of Stacy!
"Here's my number at home back in Chicago, and here's the number where you can leave me a message here at school! Ever had REAL Chicago deep-dish pizza? I know a couple of really good places, there's some good local spots we can catch some of the better indie and local bands at, and we can hang out down at the Navy Pier! Oh, yeah – the Art Museum is having an excellent showing of Monet's works from Giverny-"
Jane's ears perked up. "-And after that, we could go to the Museum of Science & Industry – they've got that captured U-boat there! Give me a call!"
Julia and Lindy came up behind him, and each took an arm. "Let's go, before you end up with so many demerits that you'll end up retiring from here instead of graduating."
After the cadets left, the Colonel turned to the Legionnaires. "All right, Legionnaires – you did an excellent job in the simulation – far better than anyone thought you would. Now, you get to learn another lesson; mending fences, and offering an olive branch."
He held up the large envelope. "I'm giving you all the next 72 hours off – and momentarily, your opposites will be receiving the news that they'll be getting a 48-hour furlough, starting an hour from now." He took several standard envelopes out of the larger one, and started passing them around. "Consider this as resources for your lesson. I expect you to treat your new associates. Run off somewhere, or grab some food – take the opportunity to get to know them, and let them get to know all of you. Jane, Morgendorffers – a moment, please."
As the other seven Legionnaires filed out of the room, some of them suddenly punch-drunk after looking into the envelopes and seeing what was inside, Daria, Jane and Quinn made their way up to Armalin. "It seems that your benefactor made a trip to Legion Tower yesterday, before Miss Hall and your brother, Jane, left to bring Mrs. Morgendorffer here – by the way, it seems that Miss Hall and your mother used the Academy's transport to return to Lawndale and left your brother and the plane here. You wouldn't happen to know why, would you?"
Jane shook her head. "Maybe they thought we'd like to show off the plane, and maybe Trent met some girl who actually thought being a slacker musician is sexy enough to act like a fool over and so he's hanging out and mooning over her."
The Colonel held his hand to his head, as if he were fighting back a headache. "Whatever. Mr. Stark had Miss Hall deliver those envelopes at my request, and he furthermore had her deliver these to you. That, I assure you, was not something she was happy about."
Quinn had opened her envelope – and immediately dropped upon her backside. "This is- it's a..."
"Oh, my God," Jane said, eyes disbelieving as she blinked at the credit card with the 'Visa' logo on the bottom left-hand side, and a stunning, swirling, fractal image covering the card's front side. "This is a 'Visa Infinite' card – with my name on it."
"They only made a thousand of these," Daria said, her voice holding the same stunned tone as Jane's. "We each have one."
"As I said, Miss Hall was VERY unhappy about Stark's insistence that you have those," he said. "He expects a great deal from the three of you – and one of the things that he expects is that you don't make fools of him by acting like Paris Hilton with unlimited access to her grandpa's piggy bank. Those come with responsibility, ladies. Remember that."
As the Colonel turned and left, Quinn just sat on the floor and stared at the card in her hand. "How much is a baby unicorn, anyway-?"
"Griffin – wait up."
The other Legionnaires watched as Carolyn and the other Phantom Eagles walked up to her. "Cadet Todd – our cadre leader – would like to know if you would accept an invitation to our private dining area. Tonight, in Covell Hall."
Sandi was momentarily speechless. "You mean, would we like to come? Yes, we can-"
"You don't understand," Carolyn said, with an unexpected bluntness. "The Phantom Eagles would consider it an honor if you would dine with us tonight."
"Yes – she would love to." Sandi turned as Quinn spoke, surprise on her face. "Go on, Sandi. Go on."
As the Legionnaires watched Sandi being escorted away by the Eagles, Quinn turned to the others. "Everybody deserves their own moment in the spotlight."
"Speaking of which – I have to find David Allen," Daria said. "We need to talk."
"Jane – I've got a few questions to ask him!"
"The thing is – I don't think she's going to want to hear the answers," Jane said, watching as Daria disappeared down another hall. "Well – let's go work on that 'extending an olive branch' thing."
Daria walked towards the student lounge a cadet had pointed her towards when the door opened and Zoey – looking as if she would break down in tears any moment – passed by her without a word. "Hello, Miss Morgendor-"
"Daria," she said to Rafael, who had stepped through the door a moment behind Zoey. "I was wondering if I could talk to David Allen."
Rafael turned to look at his fellow cadet, a footstep behind him. "Take your time," he said, stepping aside so that Daria could enter the lounge. "See you tomorrow morning, David Allen."
Daria closed the door of the lounge as David Allen took a seat in a plush chair; the young woman turned and leaned against a wall.
"You invaded my mind, you bastard." She spat out her words as if they had the most foul taste imaginable in her mouth.
"The lady doth protest too much," was his equally cold response. "So how is this different from the time you invaded your sister's mind?"
"You did it to win a dumb contest that didn't mean anything. I was trying to help my sister!"
"Right. Your three Jacks beat my pair of Queens. It's the most self-serving statement in the world. If you're freaked out by me invading your mind, well - now you got a taste of what your sister felt when she found out about your intrusion. I don't apologize. You're only pissed off because I thought of it first."
"You unbelievable son of a bitch."
"Watch your mouth when you talk about my mom – and you have zero room to talk. You forget I was there. I know what you're like when it comes to using your powers. You don't just inhale - you drink the bong water and scrape the bottom of the pan for the crumbs from the special brownies."
"What the hell does THAT mean?"
"Don't insult me – you've got a stronger familial bond with the Lanes than with your own flesh and blood. I sensed EXACTLY what you were drawing power from and how you were using it – just like you were sensing it from me. Equal and opposite forces, Daria. Light and darkness, heat and cold, freedom and control, passion and indifference – oh, and by the way, that's how I shut you down. You're still a human being – still a woman – and as hard as you try to suppress it, you have human feelings and desires. One of those is hope – and whatever you were drawing from feeds off the belief that there is no hope. You project to the world that you firmly believe that – just by the way you carry yourself, although not as much as you used to – and that's how it came up through you."
"You put far too much on how well you can kiss."
"I wasn't the one who started off using tongue – not that I'm complaining. Also, that power surge DID seem to drop away incredibly fast once we kissed. Once you have a boyfriend, you'll probably be able to lock it away for all time."
Daria hit him with an angry glare. "That was very rude."
"I'm stuck wearing a compliance band for the next six weeks," he shot back. "I give a damn about your feelings right about now? Oh, and I didn't invade your mind – I didn't have to do anything. I just dropped my natural psi-walls that keep me from picking up random thoughts wherever I go, and let your spillover just come pouring right through. I've told you about that before – and you truly need to work on that. If a REAL 'evil telepath' ever engages you even remotely like I did today, that person will get so much info out of you that they'll have your Legion on a silver platter!"
He sat back in the chair. "Right now – you're a walking, talking Level One security risk. I'm just glad that the Mark 30 has an innate psi-screen function, and you should have someone teach you how to seal your mind off. Psychically, you're easier to read than a large-print copy of See Spot Run."
They were both silent for a minute. "I don't hate you." Daria finally spoke out.
"I know that," David Allen said. "Daria – you know how your mother talked to you; 'the talk' – the one when she found out about your powers?"
"First – tell her from someone who knows that she did better than she can imagine, because even though she wasn't there as much as she would have liked, at least you got to have her there so you could bond on some deeper level."
Daria looked at him. "Another thing," continued David Allen, "you can get away with a lot more than most psionics at your level. You've been so angry, so annoyed – how did you put it? You have low esteem for others, and because of it, your anger isn't a trigger for your power. You take it out on yourself, in a way – that's part of the blood-pressure issue you've had - but while your powers can be fueled by your emotions, it doesn't always act as an overall trigger. You don't lash out with your power as if it's innately entwined with your feelings – and that's a gift that you can't begin to understand."
David Allen rose from his chair. "Tell your sister that I am sorry for acting out on her the way that I did."
As he passed her on the way to the door, Daria felt – and saw in her mind – a shadow of something less than reality, but more than memory; of screaming, of fear on several levels – around her, and flowing out from her... the feel of a soft blanket around her, against her bare skin, gentle heat radiating away from her and power flowing, draining, piercing into her-
As real as if it were being said into her own ear, Daria heard a woman say 'Stop' – and then, the memory vanished.
"Oh," David Allen said, surprised; he turned back to face her. "You are powerful with that control ability, if you can override the effect of a Mark 40. Usually, it creates a 'null zone' for a psi wearing it, so that they just can't be read. If you can pull memories like that..." He let his voice trail off.
"What... was that?" Daria asked, suddenly fascinated and frightened by what she'd – 'experienced' was the right word for it, she decided.
"From what I can tell, that was the first time I ever actively used any of my powers," he replied. "I think I was two weeks old."
"It was-" David Allen went silent, and headed for the door. "It was bad."
He went through the doorway without a backwards glance.
"Here they come," Jane said, watching as the Alliance cadets – minus Zoey, David Allen and Rafael – walked towards the Gridrunner. "Hey."
"Hey," Julia echoed as she led the group of cadets, a small box in her hands. "We wanted to give you something – you know, a peace offering of sorts. Sherrie – she's my roommate, you're in my spot while you're here, Quinn? – she used her power to synthesize a small amount of Salazarium, and well – here."
"Nice," Jane said, looking into the box as Quinn opened it to show sixteen signet rings, each with the Legion logo. "Class rings."
"They have a better use than that," Julia said, taking one from the box and slipping in onto her ring finger. "Watch."
The faces of the Legionnaires all showed surprise as she soared into the air, made a quick series of flips, and then sat back down with great ease. "Read up on Salazarium on the Academy Wiki. It's got several special qualities – among them is the fact that it allows the wearers of these rings to fly," she said, putting the ring back. "We've already sized a ring for each of you, and there's spares for your next few members. We'll also show you the other nice little things about the rings."
"Between this and the fact that the higher-ups here have agreed to give us the plans to have a TIDE-pool built back at Legion Tower – I'd say you guys are on the fast track to being forgiven," Jane said, pulling the ring from the spot marked with her name and putting it on. "Oh, yeah. This is nice."
"You'll be able to fly as high and as fast as your body can handle it," Maryann said to Tom, who slipped his ring on. "Go invulnerable, and you can fly in space wearing one of those."
Tom's smile spoke worlds; he didn't even flinch as Jane whacked him in the back of the head. "Thank you," Quinn said, looking from her new ring to Julia as she gestured to the lowered entrance ramp. "Thank you very much – and welcome aboard."
"I won't be coming with you," Rafael said. "Neither will Zoey and David Allen – so you'll be stuck with this group. Feel free to kick anyone out the door in flight if they misbehave – this means you, Brace."
As the members of The Alliance came up the ramp, Jeffrey turned to get another look at Stacy when he tripped and fell over his own feet, knocking Daria over as he went down – and as Rafael helped her to her feet, she grasped at his jacket.
Rafael felt his power to twist and alter probabilities suddenly kick in. He looked into Daria's eyes, and they both saw beyond the place and time they were in...
"What's happening?" Quinn asked, stepping closer to her sister as Daria and Rafael's eyes were both aglow with the electric-blue glow in their pupils that signaled serious psionic activity. "Why are both of their eyes like that?"
"She's in a mindlink with him," Jane said, remembering her own experience. "Don't worry – Daria won't hurt him." I think.
The glow faded from their eyes, and Daria let go from the death's grip she had on his jacket. "I – I didn't know that you could do that," Rafael said, nowhere near as shaken up by the vision as Daria appeared to be.
"I can't," Daria replied, somehow knowing the words to be true even as the slipped away from her lips. "I know that I can't – but your power – it makes thinks happen that really can't, right?"
"I can make extremely improbable events occur – like you having a precognitive vision focusing on my jacket," he told her. "What does that mean?"
"I think – I think that it means these jackets are going to be around for a long time," Daria replied. "I think that there are going to be more than a few people who'll someday have the chance to wear them."
Ten minutes later, Colonel Armalin and Admiral Harriman watched as the Gridrunner fired her V/STOL engines and lifted off the Academy grounds. "Vargas put Farrington and Robertson on restrictions, and stayed behind to take care of other matters," Harriman informed him. "Griffin's in Covell Hall, having dinner with the Phantom Eagles. As for the others – where do you think they'll go?"
"We just turned fifteen metahuman kids loose on the world with money and a jet that can take them anywhere on the planet." Armalin shook his head. "Knowing the way kids are, and remembering what I was like back in my Academy days – I bet they're heading back to Legion Tower, for the biggest pizza party the East Coast has seen in a long while."
He took the folder the Admiral offered him, and flipped through the pages. "It's all arranged, Kyle," the Admiral told him. "We'll accept Blum-Deckler as a civilian enrollee to USAES in the First Academy - beginning with the summer semester, if she wants it."
"Thanks. She'll need a far more structured educational environment than the Legion training cadre can provide at this point - and she does have that barely-restrained tendency towards violence. I hate to think of what she'll do when she gets full control of her powers."
"Don't thank me yet – this is a reciprocal arrangement. We take one off your hands, and you get one of ours. The higher-ups feel that we should have one of our cadets installed as a member of the Legion, as a precursor to a formal exchange program between USAES and the National Legion organization. We're looking at a one-year trial, to see how it works."
"You want the Legion to take one of your cadets?"
"Not just one of my cadets – an Alliance cadet." In response to Armalin's questioning look, the Admiral smiled. "Happy circumstance, Kyle. One of them actually fits the Legion membership guidelines – and, as it turns out, the, ah, 'unique qualities' of the Legionnaire mindset. She'll do her final year by video link and Net access – she can fly in for her tests – and aside from that, she's one of yours."
"They'll have to approve offering her Legion membership."
"She'll have to accept the offer."
Armalin looked up with surprise. "You haven't even asked her yet? Wait a minute – 'she?' Don't you think the Legion has enough women already – not to mention that these girls are very territorial?"
The Admiral smiled. "Like I said – 'she' is the only one that fits the guidelines, and I think she'll fit in very well. In the meanwhile, planning on heading back to Lawndale soon?"
"No – the Legionnaires can take care of themselves."
The Admiral smiled at those words. "I was hoping you would say that."
The way his friend spoke set off an alarm in Armalin's mind. "What are you up to, Marty?"
"You've done an excellent job with those kids, Kyle. Even with the mistakes my cadets made, they should have won that simulation. It was your training that tipped the balance. You took a bunch of suburban kids and helped turn them into a fighting force that beat – let's be honest, they won – the best cadet team I have on the campus. A lot of people laughed when they heard about you taking Stark up on his offer. They won't be laughing anymore."
"Cut to the chase."
"This is a dispatch from the Secretary of Metahuman Affairs," the Admiral said, taking a letter from his jacket. "He's very impressed with what you've done with the Legion – he's been an admirer of yours for a long time, and he was a very good friend of Professor Blumenberg – who, as this simulation showed, may have been right about a great many things. He wants you to come back into the fold, Kyle."
"I'm not interested in leading a P.O.G.O. team again, Marty-"
"He's offering you the Professor's old posting – Deputy Commandant of the Academy – as well as something everyone feels you should have had long ago."
He handed the dispatch to Armalin, who blinked hard as he read. "You'll get your star if you take the appointment. 'General Armalin' – has a nice sound, doesn't it?"
Armalin was silent as he read. "What you did for the Legion, you can do for hundreds of cadets," the Admiral continued. "You can help shape the next generation of metahumans, Kyle. You can bring Professor Xavier's legacy to hundreds – thousands – of young men and women; you can help them the way he helped you. You've done your job with the Legion, Kyle – as you said, those kids don't need you anymore. The cadets here do. They need people like you to get them ready for not just the world we live in now, but the world that's going to explode and try to tear itself apart when it finally realizes that metahumans exist."
The Admiral took a step forward. "It's time for you to step up and do your part to help save the world, by training the heroes of tomorrow – here, at 'The Axe'. What do you say?"
Kyle looked from the sheet of paper to his friend's outstretched hand, and up to his eyes.
"Will you join us, Kyle?"
Martin Peters felt his heart sink as he stood on the shore of Academy Lake, near the boathouses, and watched the glow of the Gridrunner's engines disappear off into the night as it headed off eastward.
"I know how you feel," a voice said from behind, and Martin turned to see an attractive female cadet leaning against one of the trees bordering the lake on the side they stood on. "You wanted to talk to her, tell her how you feel, and hope against hope that she'd feel the same way... but then, reality comes rumbling down the street on the biggest Harley you've ever seen. I'm sorry that it couldn't work out for you, sir."
Martin saw that the young woman wore the rank of a Cadet First Year, along with a small version of the Rod of Asclepius – a serpent entwined around a staff – joined by a double-helix entwining the staff from the opposite direction: the symbol for the students in the psionic/biophysical medical studies field (the technical term for 'healers'). "I've seen you before. You're a 'grafter', right?"
"Yes, sir," the cadet said, stepping forward; Martin was caught by how attractive she was, with olive skin, long, dark hair (which she kept in a formal, yet stylish manner) and large, brown eyes. "I'll transfer into the Elite Academy in June."
There was silence between the two for a long moment. "People were talking about how much you liked her, and how it seemed she liked you – but she left without even saying 'goodbye'."
"It's not that," Martin said, surprised at how easily the lie slid out. "I had something that I was supposed to give them."
"Well, maybe you'll get a chance later," the girl said.
"I hope so," he said, remembering the face of the young woman from the future, who had given him the small box and instructions to present it to the Legion 'when they would need it the most'. "I'll see them all again. Good night, Cadet-" He struggled for a name.
"Todds, sir. Danielle Todds."
Martin nodded and left; Danielle stayed behind, leaning back against the tree, and let the image of bouncy, carrot-red hair and blue-white sparks float through her mind as she stared off into the distance.
The 'McMansion' in the Crewe Neck gated community was a fallback position for Graham. He'd never seriously thought that he'd need to use it, but just the same, had it fully stocked with everything he might need to stay there –unannounced and unbothered by the other residents – for several weeks.
He lay deep in the huge, comfortable bed inside the spacious master bedroom, semi-conscious as the heavy dose of Vicodin ES tablets reduced the pain he felt to a dull, sleepy roar that allowed him to actually approach a level of comfort – a level where he could concentrate his intellect on something beyond focusing past the pain that was spilling into the right side of his body from the left... from which he had felt no pain at all.
As he lay back, Graham relived the moment over and over in his head when he realized something had gone so, so very wrong – the moment when he, after climbing back into his dorm window at Grove Hills with such little effort that he thought he was dreaming, he'd gone into the hallway and immediately been met with a scream. He barely remembered lashing out with his left hand so quickly that the scream had cut off almost as it had begun; he wouldn't find out until several days later that the boy he'd struck had been thrown several feet, hit his head so hard that he didn't awaken for two days, and that he had no memory of what had hit him.
That was a good thing, Graham thought, as he recalled the way he felt when he looked into a mirror... and saw that the left side of his body had been transformed into a sleek, yet horrifying, bio-cybernetic form.
John Dynell turned from his dinner companions as Michael Baker came to the door of the quaint dining room of his penthouse; excusing himself, he rose and followed his subordinate out of the room. "Sir, I thought you should know that the video of the Legion combat simulation is ready for your viewing."
"I can watch that tomorrow."
Dynell's irritation was beginning to pour from him with tangible force, until Michael continued. "The Legionnaires had an encounter with Farrington's son in the simulation."
An eyebrow raised in interest. "They sent Blumenberg's trainees in?"
"Yes, sir – and they lost."
The look of interest spilled down across Dynell's face. "The Legion won?"
Interest turned to disbelief. "They won. They defeated - against Farrington's son?"
"No, sir – not exactly. It appears that the young man wasn't fond of the attitudes some of the Legionnaires had expressed towards him – and he made them aware of his displeasure in a most forceful and... creative manner. If his team leader hadn't ordered him to stand down, he would have-" The young man felt bile rise up in his mouth. "It's on the tape, sir. Apparently, he's been disciplined for his actions."
"I'll look at it now. Send the ladies home." Interesting. A well-trained, high-level telepath like Cassandra's child, with the possible beginnings of a grudge against the Legion?
This bears watching – and, perhaps, further investigation.
"I'm sorry, Natalia – but I have no idea where Darren is! Yes, if I hear from him, I will have him call you – right away!"
William Appleton set the phone receiver down, and let off an aggressively offensive comment directed at his nephew's girlfriend before he reached over and took a long pull from his glass of Irish whiskey. "Shame I didn't see her first – I'd have taught the bitch some manners."
The Chief Financial Officer of Appleton Industries finished his drink and looked over towards the window of his bedroom, impatience on his face. "And where the hell is she? She's supposed to have been here fifteen minutes ago!"
The phone on his nightstand rang, and he picked the receiver up to bellow into the mouthpiece. "WHAT DO YOU WANT NOW-?"
His hair-trigger temper cooled
immediately. "Oh, yes, yes. Sorry. 'Darren's latest bed warmer's been a bit of
a pain. Yes, I know. That's the thing with women like that; they fail to
realize that the sun does not rise and set between their thighs-" He listened
to the speaker on the other end. "Of course – if you tell them that and put it
that way, they run to get in the bed!"
William laughed. "Look, I need you to send your friend down to deal with the girl. No, not eliminate her – have your friend 'glamour up' again and break it off with her, so she'll stop bugging us about the boy! Yes, he can sleep with her all he wants while he's there – he's been doing that as 'Darren' for the past year, right? - As long as he makes sure the breakup's so painful that the girl will NEVER want to see him again. The real Darren's still in a coma from being exposed to that mutated skunk's spray last year – no, we haven't been able to figure out how to revive him."
The sound of the window opening drew William's head around. "I have an important matter to attend to. Call me tomorrow evening."
William put the phone receiver back; he then reached into the top drawer of the nightstand and drew a small hard-shell case from within before he turned back to stare directly at the window. "I'm waiting..."
As he spoke, a shape seemed appear in midair; a tiny speck that seemed to expand, enlarging itself...
The tiny feet of a young woman touched the floor. "Good evening, Fran," he said, his aggressive, brutish personality rising up as he saw the petite, delicate young woman turn her face away from him. "Did you do as I asked?"
The young woman nodded, trying to keep her face hidden. "Yes. I got inside Legion Tower and loaded the program into their computer – just like you told me to."
"Good girl. Now, why don't you come here? I'm going to need some help relaxing tonight – and you do want your medicine... don't you?"
Shame all but flooded from the girl as she nodded her head. "Yes."
"Then come here."
She went to William, who took a syringe and a vial of a milky, violet-colored fluid from the case. He filled the syringe as the girl knelt in front of him, and she gasped in pain as he injected her in the back of the neck. "It's done," he told her, replacing the items in the case. "Go see for yourself."
The light in the adjoining bathroom flicked on as the girl entered and looked at herself in the mirror; she flinched as she looked over the heavily scarred side of her face, and a sense of wonder filled her soft gray eyes as the scars began to unknot, filling in and smoothing out, restoring a gentle, wonderful color to her complexion as her face was completely healed.
"Stop being so infatuated with yourself – I'm doing this for me," William's voice barked from the direction of the bed. "I'm not sleeping with the child-bride of Frankenstein. Just remember – the Cinderella drops only last for eight hours. Now, come to bed."
Fran Laurence looked once more into the mirror at the gently attractive face she now wore; her long, even lashes under delicately arched brows moved as she blinked, and tears of shame began to flow down her cheeks.
Fran turned away from the mirror; before she did so, she reached out to the image looking back at her. "I'm sorry," she whispered. "If I knew how... If I could help you – If I could make you the real me without doing - this, I would."
She turned the light in the bathroom off, and began to unfasten the buttons on the blouse she wore as she walked towards the bed.