Chapter 13:2 – 'Angel Of The Morning'
Of course Daria didn't like Julia Elaine Carlyle. They were both cut from the same cloth, but with one difference; Julia had been fortunate enough to have had someone notice that she was special at an early age, shield her from a world that brutalizes those outside of the norm, and gather around her a group of friends who accepted her for who she was – for good or ill. For lack of a better description, they could be seen as Sith Lord and Jedi Knight – with Daria as the former, secretly thinking of her fellow Legionnaire that 'the grass was greener', while as for the latter, Julia's impression of the charter member was 'There, but for the grace of God...'
This was particularly visible when the Legionnaires went before the public. Daria shrank from the limelight's glare, whereas Julia seemed to revel in it. Daria, a talented writer with a flair for debate, was at her best when in small groups or when encountering individuals one-on-one; Julia, a gifted singer whose skill at manipulating an audience – on or off the stage - had no peer within the Legion's ranks (save perhaps the iconic Quinn Morgendorffer) and gave no indication that she actually had a problem with stage fright, which she handled by thinking of every performance as 'a mission' which she needed to complete. She had one advantage over Daria; her years as a cadet had taught her how to control her fears, and to handle them by direct attack instead of in the passive-aggressive manner that Daria had perfected over the years and honed to a razor's edge in Lawndale, pre-Legion.
That was the problem that defined the two of them in what some historians refer to as 'the expansion period' of the Legion, where they gained several new members – a number of them in quite the unusual fashion, to say the least. Daria was in a group that accepted her but could never quite take her to its heart – and this was partially her own
fault, by her own admission – while Julia had left her group, and never really accepted the fact that she could be a Legionnaire as well as a member of The Alliance.
They would eventually develop a working relationship, and respect for one another's abilities and skills – but friendship? Readers are free to decide for themselves if the two women ever reached that social plateau.
The authors will not hazard a guess on this issue.
-from The Bedrock, by Lysette and True Barron
Sometimes it's hard to just
But faith is moving without knowing
Can I trust what I can't see
To reach my destiny
I want to take control but I know better
God, I want to dream again
Take me where I've never been
I want to go there
This time I'm not scared
Now I am unbreakable, it's unmistakable
No one can touch me
Nothing can stop me
-from 'Unbreakable', by Fireflight
"I'm only doing this because I really like you – I mean, 'like you', like you," Tom Sloane said, glad for his superhuman powers as he jogged alongside Jane Lane. "I usually don't go running with girls – girls usually come running after me."
Jane put along a burst of speed as she cleared the lightly wooded area that bordered the northeast edge of the beach below Legion Tower, and rolled her eyes at the comment.
"Why is it that all of the male Legionnaires have super-ego as a power?"
"Because we're all so wonderful, and because we get to spend so much time around so many cute girls – case in point."
They stopped, and Jane momentarily considered using her magnetic powers to toss her boyfriend into the waters of Lewis Bay – the body of water that gave Lawndale a direct connection to the Atlantic Ocean – before she moved in close to accept his kiss-
Backlit by the rising sun and with wings fully extended, Julia Carlyle rose from the waters of Lewis Bay not more than thirty feet from them in a torrent of foam, garbed only in a cream-colored, string mesh bikini.
Tom suddenly found himself on the ground, spitting out sand and nursing the left side of his face as Jane winced, her left hand stinging from the force of the slap she had instinctively dished out! "Ow!" she said, looking up from her hand to where Julia, wiping her hair from her face, looked at her and Tom with a mix of curiosity and humor.
"Did I interrupt something?"
"What's with the Botticelli riff out there in the surf, Carlyle – and haven't you noticed it's daylight AND this is more or less a public area?" Jane snapped as the leggy redhead walked out of the waters towards her and Tom. "People could see you with those things hanging out like that!"
Julia smiled, and Jane scowled at both her and Tom, who suddenly found a way to occupy his time by tossing rocks into the distance with his super-strength – smart thinking, Tommy boy, Jane thought. You'd BETTER not be checking out her goodies with that shape-vision of yours... not that it takes x-ray vision with that half-a-bikini she's almost wearing. Wonder if she'll point me in the direction of where she got it?
"The wings, Einstein."
"Oh." She withdrew her wings back into her shoulders, where they were tiny wing buds just below the skin. "I just love swimming – and I haven't been anywhere near the ocean in months."
Tom threw a small, glittering stone into the next time zone, and glanced at Julia. "The other seagulls made you Stand to Center - and sent you to farm country as a punishment?"
The huge smile Julia gave Tom made him feel weak-kneed for a second – and then made him step back quickly from Jane, who looked as if she were about to do something very unpleasant to him.
"You'll pay - later," Jane promised, turning back to Julia. "So, Carlyle - where'd you get the swimsuit?"
"A place in Baja," she replied. "Got it the January before last – needed something for the Polar Bear swim, and I was supposed to make sure every guy noticed me."
Jane smiled. "You think that you can point it out for me?" A trip to Baja California – now, that would be a nice weekend getaway...
"If you want something like this, hold on until summer classes start at the Academy. They offer a minor in fashion design, and the cadets bring in lots of money by making clothing like this for metahumans - and they understand style. They'll cut you a deal, too, just to say that you're wearing their clothes."
The redhead walked over to where her towel and giant beach blanket were placed, and she begin to towel off her hair before slipping on a pair of sandals and wrapping a sarong around herself. "Anyway, I just wanted to get a few miles in before I got dressed and came up to Legion Tower," she said, shaking her hair out.
"We're having our meeting about you at eleven," Jane told her. "Don't you want to look around the city beforehand, instead of just hanging around the Tower?"
"Already done - I've got a suite at the Imperium," she replied. "I've got an idea. Want to come over and help me tear through the breakfast buffet? My treat!"
Even Tom blinked at that; the Imperium was the hotel in Lawndale. The legendary Imperium Breakfast was stocked with breakfast items such as sliced New Zealand gold kiwifruit (flown in from New Zealand fresh for the buffet every Monday, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday), and a choice of Bourbon pointu or Blue Mountain #1 coffee (the same brand that the U.S. President drank every morning). It was a $1000-a-plate extravagance enjoyed primarily by the five-star hotel's select clientele (wealthy travelers, celebrities, politicians and power brokers (and their mistresses) who enjoyed unusually decadent luxuries – luxury at a level that few residents of Lawndale (even the Sloanes) indulged in on anything even remotely resembling a regular basis.
Tom glanced over at Julia. "Julia, about your last name – are you a Carlyle? I mean, those Carlyles? The New York Carlyles?"
Julia smiled at him. "My parents are Forbes and Deforest Carlyle-" Tom's eyes went widened as Julia continued. "Spaulding Carlyle's my granddad, and my great-grandmother's Miranda Carlyle. I don't ever get to splurge, being at the Academy - so I figure that if I do some mad spending over the next few days, Nana'll get off my case for a while about the place." She shrugged. "Nana NEVER wanted me to go there, and didn't speak to my mother for almost a year after she let me go. She's always saying 'that the wearing of a soldier's uniform, even as an officer, is not the station in life befitting of 'a Carlyle woman'."
She started away towards the champagne-colored Hummer H2 that sat at the edge of the beach a hundred or so feet away, and Tom watched her go.
"The Carlyle Family," he said. "They're 'old money' like the Sun is 'a source of heat and light', and they can trace their family line back over fifteen hundred years. They're the exception to the rule that God made whiskey so that the Irish wouldn't be able to rule the world. God knows, they've tried often enough."
"Stop sounding so impressed – and stop staring at her butt." Jane's mouth was already watering at the very mention of the near-mythical breakfast spread that she'd heard about all of her life, but always considered so far out of her reach that – even as a Legionnaire – she never thought about going there. "I want one of those huge, tire-sized Belgian waffles – they make them so that they're crunchy, but actually melt in your mouth - and all of the different varieties of coffee..."
Jane picked up her pace. "Hey! Tall girl! Wait up!"
Tom decided on the spot that, this coming Friday, he was going to rent a couple of suites at the Imperium and drag Jane there for a weekend of pure hedonism.
It's about time I did something over-the-top extravagant for her, anyway – and Julia's right. I know that having money and fancy gifts isn't what she's all about and that she hates people thinking that she would be shallow like that – but I think that she'd probably appreciate a romantic gesture, every once in a while – as long as its about how I feel abut her, and not just buying her things. Yeah. It's time to spend some money on my girl, the way people would expect. Mom and Dad are probably wondering why I'm not doing anything particularly romantic for Daria – I mean, Jane – which they've heard about through the grapevine. Well – they'll certainly hear about this.
The young man blinked hard - what was I just thinking? - and then shook his head clear as he took off after the two girls at a nice pace.
This morning was not one of the better ones that Kyle Armalin had known since he had taken on the unofficial title of babysitter to a team of teen metahumans.
First, there was the report that a friend had sent him on the destruction of the clubhouse at the Winged Tree Country Club. He allowed a memory of his brief visit to the club several weeks past. Angier Sloane and Mayor Andrew Landon had invited him for lunch and nine holes of golf – a game he cordially despised – and dropped hints about wanting to see him become more involved in the community... perhaps, even considering moving to Lawndale on a permanent basis?
Shuddering, he pushed that memory away. Next – dealing with the problems of bringing Carlyle into the Legion. Despite everything, that shouldn't be as much a problem as acclimating Blum-Deckler into the structured regimen of cadet life at the U.S. Academy of Extranormal Studies – although something told him that neither of the girls wouldn't have a hard time of it as one might think.
Going on down the list – keeping Adonis Wyatt focused and out of my hair. Dawn Hall – she was a far more pleasant person than listening to the Legionnaires would suggest – pointed out to Armalin that he'd become something of a minor gay culture icon since he'd begun training the Legionnaires a year ago. The first call he'd received that morning was from Dawn, who told him (with a twinkling of a laugh that ensured that he couldn't become too incensed) that Adonis would be returning to Legion Tower in two days with the new uniforms for all of the Legionnaires – and he wanted permission to being his entourage along 'to assist with the fittings and on-site alterations.'
Armalin wanted to put his head down when he asked how many people were coming, and the answer was 'thirty'; he almost hung up on the CEO of Quest Industries when she told him that they'd also asked for (and received) his own measurements – and that Adonis and his designers had also designed outfits and uniforms for him – 'at no charge; after all, we have to do something for our men in uniform – anything, and in any way we can.'
Only the way Dawn's bubbling laughter was cut off with an abrupt gasp when he told her that he'd make comments to Trent on how she hated the mere mention of alternative music made that conversation bearable. Armalin smiled as he recalled the first time that the CEO of Quest Industries and the slacker musician met; it was the day he had hired Trent Lane to work as a 'jack of all trades' around the Tower, and the tiny woman could barely keep her eyes off him.
Next – Sloane and Mackenzie's excursion to another world to deal with a Class Four Z-outbreak (as they referenced events of that nature and magnitude at Project Uatu – the DELPHI branch that policed inter-dimensional travel, alternate realities and excursions to other times, dimensions and realities). I'll just table that one until I can get Priscilla down here for a debriefing –as if she doesn't already know.
Now – the big ones. Shaking his head, Armalin looked at a small sack of books that sat on his desk. Oh, they're going to curl up and want to die when I break this course of study out on them – but it's about time, especially with what they'll be facing soon. It's time they get a taste of Academy training – beyond learning how to use their powers.
Also – I'll have to have a long talk with Ruttheimer. Didn't see that one coming – although, looking back, I probably should have. A little confidence, a view of the world outside this little suburb – especially from several miles up, in the catbird seat of a hypersonic transport, loads of young women who don't think he's something that was birthed when a toilet backed up. Is there any wonder that he wants to consider trading up from the Legion, into the Academy? Hell, he'll go right into the Elite Academy and have his pick of majors – and the environment will be good for him, too. If the Legion were mostly male, this probably wouldn't be a problem – as soon as he started getting in shape and showing some competence with his powers, the boy pups would take him in as one of the pack – but here, in a mostly female environment...
His expression grew somber. 'Charlie's Angels' aside – primarily female teams have always been a problem. Typically, males establish dominance directly, through force, while females establish the same indirectly, through controlling the social stratifications that exist or which they create – and in that world, there's no way to brute-force your way into respect as there is with the boys, where even standing up for yourself and taking an ass-kicking in the process will make people look at you in a better light. If the Legionnaires were mostly men, he'd have taken his respect his first day here, when he stepped into Thunderdome with that other shape-shifter – a combat to the death, the first time he ever went into action – and not only walked out under his own steam, but showed that he could operate under pressure, think on his feet, and put the bastards down for the count.
Ruttheimer's just like Lane - the boy has 'hardcore' written all over him and they don't recognize it. Being girls (and mostly 'popular' ones from a suburb who've rarely dealt with the 'real world'), all they see is a plain, unpopular boy – for now - who can't help but to think of them with their clothes off whenever he's around them. That's what boys do. I wonder if any of them – except Rowe – even bothered to thank him for saving their asses afterwards?
Armalin sipped his coffee. I seriously doubt it. He sat his cup down and reached for another folder, which he placed before him before glancing at the clock on the wall. I might as well take care of this first – it's the bigger problem. Why is it that, at some point of that conversation, I'm fairly sure the name 'Daria' will figure prominently? In any case, I'll cut her a bit of slack – she deserves that, for sending that signed cheesecake shot over to Gunny Swisten's kid. I'd never have expected that of her.
Well, it can all wait until after they have their first try at flight-ring practice. I've a feeling that this should be more than interesting...
"I'll need two lasagnas – one regular and a vegetarian – but really kick up the spicy on it a bit," Quinn said into the phone receiver, waving Daria into her room as her bleary-eyed sister appeared in the open doorway. "Okay - seven-layer salad, strawberry-apple-rhubarb tarts, cracked-wheat dinner rolls – yes, a warmer's a good idea – the seasoned spread and the whipped butter – the big cookies – yeah, those are good, honey-corn muffins, too. You can have that ready – Really? Okay, thanks!"
"Planning a dinner for someone?" It was way too early for that level of perky, Daria decided, as she slouched into the room.
"Jane asked me to call the people in the cafeteria while she was out running, and ask them to whip up a dinner for six," Quinn told her. "I think she must be planning a little dinner party somewhere... spicy mini-meatballs in marinara – real ones, and the tofu ones that taste just the same – black cherry sparkling water... mmmm, this sounds good."
Daria's eyebrows rose a bit in surprise; Jane hadn't said anything to her about a dinner party. "For tonight?"
"I guess – she wanted to know if they could have it ready by four-thirty." Quinn remembered that she was still holding the phone receiver, and hung up. "You wanted to talk to me about something-?"
Daria's eyes fell upon the very large loose-leaf binder that sat on the desk - a copy of Explosive Ordinance - Advanced Protocols and Training Procedures – Royal Army/22nd Regiment - and looked back up at her sister.
"What?" Quinn replied. "Tiffany's gone, Stacy's walking, like, on the wild side for real and Sandi's all 'Starship Troopers' now, so I can do what I want."
"Blow things up?"
Quinn smiled her most appealing smile - the smile she used to get anything she wanted out of most people, and Daria just rolled her eyes. "Whatever. Who's the dinner for?"
"She didn't say. We're all meeting out in the quarry after breakfast. Just thought you should know."
"Next time, just let me know beforehand."
Daria turned to leave as Quinn reached into her desk for a copy of Let's Get Pyromaniac! - A Do-It-Yourself Guide to Home-Made Firebombs! "Where did you get that?"
"An English web site – they've got some interesting things there," Quinn answered, looking up at her sister. "You've probably never heard of it."
Charles looked up from his bench as Mack walked out of the 'C' room on the 21st floor of Legion Tower (no, now it's Mack's room, Charles corrected himself). "When did you start working out?"
"A while ago."
"Oh." Mack walked over and watched Charles work with free weights for a minute or two. "You know what you're doing. I thought - when I saw the magazine, I thought that they had Photoshopped your pictures."
"I wouldn't have even done that if Langston hadn't asked," Charles replied, switching over to start lifting a heavy barbell with his left arm.
"Who's that – the blonde in the pictures?"
Charles nodded and continued to work out; Mack looked at him with surprise on his face. "You know her – I mean, you know her? You went out with her?"
"No - the photographer was taking shots of her and wanted something for contrast, I guess."
Mack noticed how the ever-present sleazy quality in Upchuck's voice (Charles, he corrected himself mentally) that had made him the bane of every girl at Lawndale High had all but disappeared as he was working out. If he can stop sounding like that all of the time – and he keeps working out like this – he'll have girls chasing him all over.
Wait a minute – at the Academy, they were.
"You sound like you do okay with girls up north. Jane said that you got lost in Alaska last August with some cheerleader-"
"It wasn't like that."
Mack noticed that Charles wasn't even trying to hold up his end of the conversation; shrugging, he sat down at the 'Bow-Flex' across from Charles and set the weight, prompting a smile from his fellow Legionnaire. "What's so funny?"
"You should hit the treadmill and start working more on building up your endurance," Charles replied. "The way they train at the Academy..." He chuckled, and for the first time in a while, Mack saw bits of the old 'Upchuck'. "They get it easy, compared to us – well, they get eleven years to train, so they get to spread the pain out. Wait until the Colonel and Sgt. Nemec start putting you through the hoops – after all, they are Marines."
Charles turned away from Mack, who looked at him for a long moment – and then, stepped from the machine and walked over to a treadmill.
The young psychic known as 'Mr. Veggie' looked up from his breakfast plate in the Imperium's dining room as Julia, Jane and Tom were escorted in, seated, and each presented with a saucer of thimble-sized blueberry muffins to snack on.
Looks like the Legionnaires are finally acting like they have money, he thought, sipping his breakfast tea as he gave Julia and Tom both a long once-over. That Jane Lane has surprisingly good taste in dining companions – whichever one she's dating, or perhaps both of them. Before I dice her mind, I'll have to find out, so I can console them over Miss Lane's loss - properly.
He watched as Jane enjoyed her coffee – it is excellent here, isn't it? – while her companions sipped an exotic blending of tropical fruit nectars and nibbled at the tiny muffins.
Peter called this better than I'd imagined when he booked us lodgings here. Who would have thought that a bohemian such as Lane would dine here – or comport herself reasonably well in doing so? I see that she's actually enjoying herself with the most simple of pleasures to be had here; this may prove useful, later in our plans.
Enjoy the company, Miss Lane – and the meal. It may be one of the last you partake of – without the use of a gastric tube.
Julia and Tom both raised eyebrows – as did everyone in the dining room – as Jane's cell phone went off.
"Someone's made a faux pas in the extreme," Julia playfully teased, as Jane's hand immediately went to silence her phone. "I hope we won't make things worse by answering it here at the table."
After we finish breakfast, I find out where they get their coffee and you become a Legionnaire – I'm going to put you through the Legion physical, Jane thought, rising from the table and snagging a handful of mini-muffins. Twice.
It's the only way to be sure.
Well – if you can get me a couple of those swimsuits, I'll only put you through once. Get me a few pounds of this coffee, and I'll let you off the hook altogether.
"You two don't seem like you'd be a couple," Julia observed, watching as Jane left the dining room. "Good friends, yes, but a couple?"
"Jane told me about last night," Tom said, setting his cup of coffee down. "She said that you were pushing Daria's buttons – and that your friend Vargas called you afterwards."
The deep blush that colored Julia's cheeks, and the way she reached for her nectar to cover a comment he knew was on her lips, surprised Tom. "Being a Legionnaire isn't that bad. You might want to stop sabotaging yourself – besides, Jane's good at dealing with teammates who are a bit – high-strung. If you let her – she could become a very good friend."
Julia surprised him even more by not responding. "There's no reason that you can't invite your friends to visit – show off the place a bit, and let them see how you look in your Legion uniform-" Tom snapped his fingers. "Have you picked your Legion colors yet? The colors for your uniform?"
"Pink and white," Julia said, giving him yet another surprise. "If I were wearing the old uniforms, it would be a pink tunic and white undershirt. I've thought that ever since our teams went head-to-head."
They were both quiet for a few moments, sipping coffee and eating mini-muffins, until Tom turned to face Julia. "Why did you flash Charles?"
A mischievous smirk appeared on the girl's face – an expression that Tom felt he'd grow to know and be afraid of. "Well, I didn't think that getting a glance at my tits would rattle you the way it would him," Julia answered.
"Well, I don't-"
"From what I've heard, he's seen enough sweater meat that I figured he'd be impressed with a pair like mine, and that would catch his attention long enough to knock him out." Julia took a drink of coffee, and looked at him over the rim of her cup with a glance that made Tom think he was a mouse in dire danger of being gobbled up. "Besides - seeing me naked would probably have ruined you for all other women."
Tom blinked hard as Julia smiled a sweet smile at him. Sweater meat? This girl's almost as wild as Jane, and hits for reactions the way Daria does. It's no wonder that Daria isn't a fan of hers – they're in the same sorority!
"Daria?" Jane looked back into the dining room, and then focused back on her call. "Is something wrong?"
"No – I was just curious where you were."
"Oh." Jane visibly relaxed, tension draining from her voice as well. "I thought something was wrong. Tom and I are having breakfast with Julia."
Back in her room at Legion Tower, Daria recoiled slightly from the phone. "Julia? What's she up to?"
"Springing for breakfast at the Imperium. You should taste the coffee they have-!"
"You're hanging around her just for coffee?"
"Daria. They have Belgian waffles, too." Jane shook her head. "Hey – come on over! You'll love the mini-muffins, and they've got freshly made fruit turnovers – apple, blueberry, peach, raspberry, and apricot – I'm going to get some of the biscuits and gravy, just to see what it tastes like! Come on! You can get to know Julia a bit better and make fun of Tom – I think he lost control of his 'shape-vision' earlier when he saw her in the water while we were jogging!"
"Daria, she's going to be one of us. You might as well get used to it – and to her. It's only going to make things harder on everyone if you don't at least try to reach out to her."
"Well, since you're doing that, I don't have to worry about it."
Jane's eyes widened at the slight tinge of bitterness in her friend's voice. "Daria-!"
"I'll see you later," she said, her voice flat. "Enjoy your breakfast."
Before Jane could say another word, Daria clicked the phone off and tossed it onto her bed before leaning back in her chair.
Jane looked at her phone with wide eyes before setting it to 'ring/vibrate', and slipping it back into her jacket. "Geez, Daria." Stop being such a baby because you can't have things exactly the way you want them. The Morgendorffer sisters really are world-class bitches - but at least Quinn hasn't been as horrible as Legion Leader as I thought.
Enough about the princesses for now – and I'll work on soothing the Chosen One's ego later. I want that waffle.
Slightly over an hour later, the champagne-hued H2 roared up to the Legion compound, and was waved through.
No one was even aware of Fran Lawrence, now barely the size of a pinhead, who waited for the Legion garage area to grow silent before slipping from the vehicle and flying on tiny wings through the darkness towards an air vent heading for the upper levels.
Armalin groaned inside. Legionnaires. They'll be the death of me.
He looked up, as did the nine Legionnaires, to see Julia flying towards them with extraordinary grace. Not a good idea, girl. After what they just went through, for you to come in like this, all but showing off how well you can fly-
Julia set down in front of the Legionnaires, looked them all over, and then burst out laughing so hard that her knees unlocked and she dropped to the quarry floor. No, Armalin said, correcting himself as grim looks appeared on the Legionnaires' faces, this is not a good idea. If you don't want to join, you're doing a fine job of making that happen.
"I'm sorry – this is 'Splatter Week' all over again!"
Jane walked over to where Julia was laughing and coughing for air. "You're not laughing at us, exactly, are you?"
Julia somehow managed to stop laughing long enough for her to accept Jane's hand; she rose to her feet and turned to Sandi. "I'm sorry – I thought that the way you flew in VR, you knew how to use the rings and would teach the others before-"
"Well, anything that makes you happy just makes our day," Daria said coolly, and Sandi stepped in front of her. "Hey-!"
"What did you mean?" Sandi asked, as Julia wiped at her eyes.
"I thought that you'd probably be the first to test the rings, instead of just letting everybody go all at once," Julia said, taking a deep breath before continuing. "They make you study for all of the first semester of your fourth year before they let you use Salazarium flight objects – and the first time they let you fly is the second week of the spring semester. It's usually bone-cold in Indiana that time of the year, so there's very little chance of anybody seeing you if you screw up – and everybody screws up the first time they go up with a flight-object. All those kids shooting through the air in every direction – and with all of the hard landings – like I said, 'splatter week ..."
"Yeah, I'd have liked to have seen that when you did it."
She looked into Daria's eyes; a wave of anger rose through the smaller woman as Julia burst out laughing, and then began to do a dead-on accurate impression of Daria's voice that that made the other Legionnaires try their hardest not to laugh. "Jane. Jane! Attention Jane Lane! Legionnaire in distress!!' You were doing a wide-band psi-cast – I'd be surprised if everybody sensitive to psionics within ten miles didn't hear you screaming for help."
Yeah, that's a part of her powers that the others didn't know about, Quinn said, and chuckled as Mack and Charles both jerked their heads from Julia to look down to the campsite of the night before, and them back to her. Well – maybe not.
"It's not my fault you guys committed felony pastry abuse," Julia laughed softly, noticing Tom had wisely chosen to say nothing about the night before. "Yes – I can imitate anyone's voice or any sound."
"Great. Our new Legionnaire – Parrot Girl."
Everyone saw how Julia restrained herself from firing back after Daria's comment. "Oh! Before I dig myself in any worse - you dropped something," she said, taking Quinn's cell phone from her jacket and passing it over to her.
"You found my phone – and it still works!" Quinn looked up with wide eyes at Julia. "Where did you find it?"
"I caught it after you dropped it, actually." This comment caught everyone's attention, especially from Stacy and Charles. "I didn't think that any of you would want me to interfere with your flying lessons – but no girl should lose her cell phone. Look at what happened to Paris when she lost hers."
The beacon that was Quinn's smile made Daria's sour mood even more so – and she grew even more morose as Julia turned her attention (and that damned perfect smile) towards Charles. "You do a good falcon. Wanna race someday?"
In a blink, Charles let an incredible pair of wings rise from his back, eerily similar to Julia's own wings. "We could do that."
Julia's smile grew wider. "Wow. Nice set of feathers, Charles."
"Oh, please," Daria muttered.
'Nice set of feathers, Charles.' Please. Why don't you just go down on him right here in front of everybody and save us the trouble of wondering about when it'll happen? First Mack acts like he doesn't mind if Brittany rubs her brains-in-her-bra against him, and now Duchess comes in and can't see just how foul Upchuck is.
What the hell is wrong with all of them?
Armalin's voice cut through the quiet quarry air before anyone else could speak. "As I was saying, you all need to get a little rest. Before you do – a few items to touch upon. First – your new uniforms. The designer and Mr. Wyatt will be back with their staffs the day after tomorrow for fittings and other things, and you will give them your full cooperation. Miss Griffin. Miss Rowe. Morgendorffers. Do not drive Mr. Wyatt and his staff to desperate acts."
Daria scowled at the comment, while the three former Fashion Clubbers shrugged in unison, as if to say 'well, he couldn't be talking about us.'
Armalin continued on. "Next – your educational projects for your next rotation. Griffin?"
"I'm going to work with my PFT," she said, holding her PFT-M3 CC2 out and extending it into staff mode. "I want to get better with using this." I'm also going to ask if you'll point out some new books for me to read.
"Approved," Armalin said, making a notation on the clipboard he carried. "I'll have Sgt. Nemec work up a schedule for you in the VR simulator and get the appropriate training programs for you – she'll also have some additional manuals for you to read through until the TIDE-pool is completed next week. I don't want you even thinking of going into VR until it's ready, understand?"
"I'm supposed to solo soon in the Cessna," she said, a note of pride in her voice. "Can I get a few more tons of iron ingots shipped in here, so I can keep going with my metalworking? Using my powers, I've been coming up with some interesting pieces!"
"So I've seen," he replied. "If you can show me some practical real-world and tactical applications to this, I'll approve it. Write up your proposal and have it ready by the end of next week. Morgendorffer, D!"
Daria looked up from her boots. "What do you have in mind?"
"I've been doing correspondence courses through Lawndale State," she said, causing everyone but Charles to turn and look at her with surprise. "Journalism and English."
"Very good, but you'll need something to supplement-"
For the very first time, Daria said something that surprised the Marine. "I was thinking about intelligence training – getting information, and maybe learning how to interrogate-" She looked around at the sea of wide eyes and open mouths. "What?"
Armalin looked at her for a long moment before speaking. "See me later. Morgendorffer, Q!"
"I want to learn about explosives." Another wave of silence greeted her announcement. "What?"
"I'll set it up," the Marine said without preamble. "There's someone who works for the Quest Foundation that we can send you out to study with – you'll probably go out to Utah for that. There's one thing that you have to remember - no earth tremors, no detonations that can be seen from orbit or detected on the other side of the planet, and no blowing up people unless they're very, very bad. Understood?"
Quinn gave him one of her 'cuter-than-cute' smiles; Armalin shook his head and checked his clipboard. "Ruttheimer! You're soloing on jets now, right?"
"Yes, sir," Charles said. "I'm also taking correspondence classes from M.I.T. – advanced calculus and applied physics – and I've received acceptance letters from a few other schools. Bromwell, Crestmore, Oxford, Cambridge, Notre Dame, Georgia Tech-"
The Marine carefully kept himself from smiling as he noticed the way Daria turned to stare at Charles. "Don't brag, Ruttheimer. We all know that you've got brains. In the meantime - I've read your instructor's evaluations. 'A natural pilot, striking the right balance between confidence and cautiousness, creativity and fundamentals.' He seems to think that sitting in a pilot's seat is an acceptable option for you to consider."
The Legionnaires, slightly in awe of what Armalin had just read, watched as he paced for a moment while he looked over the sheets on his clipboard. "So, Charles – how would you feel about being brought up to speed on the Gridrunner?"
Charles only hesitated for a moment before he spoke. "Yes, sir."
"Outstanding. I'll start the wheels moving – and I want to see you later, also. You and Morgendorffer – be in my office at one-thirty. Taylor?"
A familiar squeak made Armalin shake his head. "You'll have to wait until the next educational rotation begins for a new training regimen. In the meanwhile, I want you to work on some advanced acrobatics and tumbling exercises, as well as your overall physical fitness – Sgt. Nemec will arrange for additional sessions for you. Rowe?"
A happy 'Yes, sir?' made the Marine count to ten before he spoke. "You've completed both Offensive and Defensive Driving – given any thought as to what you'd like to work on now?"
Stacy's eyes shone with excitement as she said, "I want to learn about motorcycles now."
"Motocross, the 'big hogs'... and racing bikes." Stacy just barely kept from licking her lips with excitement at the thought of the sleek street machines – or of the thought of herself sitting on a green racing bike with red trim, wearing skin-tight leathers and boots in the same colors, burning through the flash-to-black streets of Tokyo with a katana in its scabbard on the side of the bike and a squealing Quinn on the back, holding on tight...
That reminds me – I need to find my DVD of Akira and watch it tonight.
"I'll make some calls, and have a few bikes brought in to look over – yes?"
"I was – I was also wondering-"
"I'd like to start taking kendo lessons."
The Marine gave her a thoughtful look before answering. "I think we can make that happen. Sloane!"
Tom had the good grace to look embarrassed. "I... I haven't really come up with anything, yet."
"Pick up the pace, Mister Sloane, or I'll assign you something to keep you occupied. 'I'm an idle rich teen learning to use his powers to shatter mountains and peek through women's clothes' is not what you want to say you're up to when people visit, right?"
Tom glanced away as Armalin thought for a moment. "I've noticed that you've been spending a lot of time in the computer center reading though files," he continued, "and Miss Griffin told me that you were the one that not only found vital information on your competitors at USAES, but also came up with the plan that allowed Mister Mackenzie to do a lot of damage, correct?"
Tom nodded. "Sounds like you've already got some talent for intelligence analysis, Sloane, and perhaps tactics," Armalin said, scribbling something down on a sheet of paper and passing it to him. "Have that ready for me in three hours, and we'll see what we can do in the way of formal training. Mackenzie!"
"I understand that you're interested in business and finance. Normally, I'd suggest Marine Force Recon or SEAL school to get the basics of what you'd need to operate in the business world – and yes, that is sarcasm. However, I've already talked to Miss Hall, who's agreed to help with your training. You'll have to wait until the next rotation to begin formal training, but Miss Hall's offered to recommend someone locally to tutor you until then. You start tomorrow morning – ten-hundred hours."
Armalin flipped to the next page on his clipboard. "One final item to touch upon. After your visit to the Academy and seeing the extensive training that they receive in a number of areas, I thought that some of their training seminars could be effective here."
A chill ran through the Legionnaires as they saw the slight smile that peeked through on the Marine's face. "Seminars – ones that they teach at the Academy?" Quinn asked, her face already beginning to drain of color as she glanced over to see the look of stunned realization on Julia's face – and suddenly remembered their conversation of the night before. "What – what seminars, sir?"
"Considering the possible and specific threats that could arise for all of you because of your status as fledgling celebrities, I felt that a specific course of training was needed, and needed immediately," Armalin said. "Beginning next Friday, and for the next six weeks thereafter – you will all take a mandatory course in human sexuality. Sgt. Nemec will teach the course every Friday afternoon, along with a member of the USAES staff who will fly in to co-teach the course. This is not a request."
The serene expression Julia wore was in sharp contrast with the looks of revulsion and general disbelief on the faces of the Legionnaires. "That is all. Dismissed. Carlyle – walk with me."
Julia gave Daria a passing glance, and walked away at Armalin's side while Jane (the only person who remained impassive at the Marine's announcement) walked over to a sickened Daria. "I wonder," said the raven-haired girl, "if they'll teach us anything you can't learn by being in a family of wanderers, commitment-phobes, marital losers and wannabe band members – all of whom, when they actually bother to hang around, act like they're in a college dorm when it comes to their sex lives?"
Daria gave her best friend a look of perfect annoyance. "Nah," Jane continued. "Probably not. Oh, hey! Julia got me ten pounds of that Blue Mountain coffee we had this morning for breakfast! She's definitely got my vote!"
"Have a seat, Carlyle."
Julia sat down in the chair directly facing the Marine's desk. "I'll make this quick. First, I understand that you're not exactly thrilled to accept this posting. As a member of the Armed Forces of the Unites States of America, you are aware that the needs of the Service come first – correct?"
Julia brought herself to attention as if by instinct. "Yes, sir."
Armalin brought a file out of the desk's bottom drawer and opened it. "Cadet First Class Julia Elaine Carlyle - United States Academy of Extranormal Studies. Major – Administration of Justice, with a minor in Computer Studies and a second minor in Music. You play an instrument?"
The redhead took a breath before speaking. "Permission to speak freely, sir?"
"At ease, Cadet."
"I can sing, sir."
Armalin noticed the distaste in her tone. "You're that horrible of a singer?"
"No, sir. I'm good at it. Several of my fellow cadets have been bothering me to try out for American Idol ever since the damned show went on the air. No, thank you."
The Marine looked over a number of pages before letting his gaze rise from the file. "Carlyle. These comments from your instructors-".
"Yes, sir. I've sung the National Anthem at a number of events-"
The Marine glanced up from the file. "You sang at last year's 'Blue-Grey' game."
"Yes, sir, not to mention at other things – eleven cadet weddings so far. I've already promised to do four- no, five more before I graduate." Julia shifted in her chair. "Oh, and you need to know that I'll need to take off next weekend. A friend of mine's getting married– she just graduated from the Academy and her fiancé's Marine regiment was called up for duty in Iraq; instead of waiting to have it next March as they planned, they scrambled to move it up."
"Take all the time you need." Armalin's finger moved across the sheets of paper as he flipped through the file. "You don't enjoy singing, but you took it as a minor."
"The Professor felt that I needed to take it as far as I could – and with proper training," Julia answered, her tone indicating that she didn't want to talk any more on the subject.
Armalin took the hint. "You chose the Federal Service track instead of Armed Forces upon acceptance to the Elite Academy – from what I'm reading here, you could have had your pick of careers in the military."
He turned another page. "As of now, you're carrying a 3.9 in your major, and you're expected to graduate 'top ten' in your class. I also understand that you'll receive your commission as a Special Agent in the F.B.I., and The Powers-That-Be have already decided that you'll be heading for Los Angeles."
"I want to go to New York, though." Julia rolled her eyes. "They want me to be a 'face' – but I want to fight bad guys, sir. That's why I chose Federal Service – it's why I chose Administration of Justice. I want to go out, see bad guys get broken down and then put into tiny little cages underneath the jail so that they'll never again hurt people who can't fight back."
The Marine nodded, and thought Oh, yes - this one will definitely spark a fire under some of the others.
"Is that part of why you didn't want to be a part of the Legion, Carlyle?"
Armalin motioned for her to speak. "Explain yourself."
Julia's eyes locked with the Marine's. "The Legion – what is it all about? Not the National Legion – that I can understand – but what about here, in the flagship chapter? What are they all about? Are they going to fight crime – and if they are, at what level? Street crime and gang activity? Organized crime? White-collar crime? Vice? Are they going to enforce the Bowman Acts and fight metahuman bad guys who break those laws?"
She sat forward in her chair. "Are they going to be a team of First Responders and rescue people in danger, no matter who it is or where they are? When they decide what they're going to do, will they be vigilantes, or will they take the time and effort to get credentials?"
Armalin sat back quietly and listened to Julia speak. "Will they be recognized by the government as a real organization to be taken seriously, or are they going to be what most
of us at the Academy saw... a bunch of super-powered kids that are going to spend a lot of time in front of cameras as the point men for an old rich guy's idea on how to 'have young people save the world?'
The redhead took a breath, and then continued. "I've spent the last ten years of my life learning how to put bad guys away – and with all due respect, sir, I don't want to play at fighting crime or saving lives with a bunch of people who aren't even sure exactly what they're fighting for. I like them, sir – well, most of them – but I don't know if I'd want them at my side if I have to go into a fight. At the Academy, they always told us to 'get our heads in the game'. Colonel – even with everything they've been through, I don't think that most of the Legionnaires realize that there is a game."
The Marine sat for a moment; Julia looked at the severe expression he wore and wondered if she'd crossed a line.
"You've made some good points, Carlyle, " he said, rising from his desk. "Trust me when I say that you have my understanding, and my sympathies towards your situation. However, you are the best person for the duty at hand. Do you have any real problems with this assignment that will keep you from accepting it, or from carrying it out to the best of your abilities?"
The breath that Julia didn't realize she was holding finally escaped as she spoke. "No, sir."
"Then I'll consider the matter settled. You'll have to be voted in, but that's a formality." He reached into a desk drawer, and withdrew a small box that he passed over to Julia. "Your PFT-M1. I understand that you're qualified on the weapon?"
"Yes, sir. They're great for-" The young woman's eyes widened. "You know about the Professor's training, don't you?"
"Let's just say that I've got an idea," he said, "and I feel that you're perfect to help out with that. I'm going to assign you, Ruttheimer and Taylor to a special project. I'll want you to work on it at least ten hours a week until further notice – and I don't want you practicing on your fellow Legionnaires, either. I already need to speak with Taylor about her unauthorized snooping."
Julia took the PFT weapon - a device the size of a keychain car alarm – and fastened it onto her set of keys. "I've also assigned you to Room 'C' on the 24th floor. You'll have Lane, Taylor and Daria Morgendorffer for floormates."
For some reason, Armalin found himself surprised when Julia showed no reaction to that information. "Yes, sir."
Julia stood up – she began to salute, but caught herself - and turned to leave when his voice caused her to turn back. "Carlyle?"
"You're still bound by the UCMJ. You can't beat anyone up because they tick you off – unless it's in the course of the mission. One more thing, Carlyle – you were in command school, weren't you?"
"Yes, sir – even though I'm going to the FBI, I'll also have a commission in the Air National Guard – CID duties," Julia told him. "Standard six-year term for Federal Service officers coming through USAES – that way, they can bring us in quickly if we're needed."
"They taught you the right manner in which to offer advice to superior officers, correct?"
Armalin nodded. "Don't be afraid to speak up while you're here – but just the same, you might to refresh your memory on the subject. Do you understand what I'm saying, Carlyle?"
Julia nodded in response. "Yes, sir. I believe I should."
"Very good, Carlyle. Dismissed."
"You really should have come out for the breakfast, Daria. Just for the coffee alone-"
"It's true?" Quinn cut into Jane and Daria's conversation, making Daria's expression curl. "Jane – you, Tom and Julia really did have breakfast at the Imperium?
Jane nodded; as she and Daria walked down the hall, Sandi stopped Quinn and Stacy in their tracks. "Ladies – we have to do something. We can't let unfashionable persons be seen representing the Legion in places like the Imperium. Even after all of her time in the Legion around us – and actually having money to spend on an appropriate wardrobe, not that she's ever tried to go out and buy anything decent – Jane has still seen fit to continue to dress unfashionably."
"Yeah – and she's got a boyfriend!" Stacy chattered along. "You'd think that she'd want to dress nice for him!"
"I know," Quinn joined in. "I mean, it's not like everyone can see your personality when you walk into a place like Chez Pierre or the Imperium – you have to dress appropriately so people can know that you're special!"
"I know what we can do," Sandi told the others. "At our next official meeting, we can introduce a special rule that says that when Legionnaires are out in public – or at least in places where the right people are – they have to be dressed appropriately."
Quinn gave Sandi a strange look. "Sandi – I thought that you didn't care about things like that anymore!"
Sandi fastened Quinn to the floor with a searing gaze. "And WHAT, may I ask, gave you THAT idea, Quinn?"
The redhead, clearly flustered, managed to sputter out, "But – but I thought that you-"
Sandi gave her a dismissive wave of her hand. "It seems obvious, KUH-winn, that someone has forgotten what's important in life. Self-defense is a life choice – but fashion is a lifestyle. Just because I'm striving to improve myself doesn't mean that I've forgotten the importance of what I've already learned."
Quinn was appropriately chastised. "Of course, Sandi."
"Think nothing of it, Quinn. You just forgot – for a moment." The way things REALLY are around here, and who's going to be in charge - soon.
Stacy turned away from the others as Mack appeared at the end of the hall. "Hey – come on, guys. The meeting's started."
Both Quinn and Sandi turned with raised eyebrows. "Meeting-?"
"Yeah. Daria figured that we should go ahead and decide on voting Julia in. Jane asked me to come and get you."
"She did, did she?" Quinn's eyes narrowed "Come on, guys. Let's go and decide to vote Julia in."
Shrunken to the size of a hummingbird, Fran Lawrence (wearing a mask to conceal her disfigured face) flew at high speed across the sky over Lawndale as she headed towards a brick building with no windows, located near Lawndale's Post Office. As she headed in, she was unaware that almost two years ago, a van with three naive college students had taken the exact same path...
She stopped in mid-air as she saw William Appleton – the one person that she despised more than any other person alive, and not only for the fact that she needed him – walking out to a waiting limousine with a tall, stocky African-American man who carried a personal organizer.
"I wonder where he's going?"
Shrinking down to a size that allowed her to easily pass through the molecules of the vehicle's roof, Fran entered the limo and landed on the headrest on the driver's seat. She watched as William and the other man entered the limo, and listened in on the conversation as the vehicle came to life and started away from the facility.
Fran reminded herself that part of the problem of spying was that it became second nature...
"Lex – this is actually better than we could have expected," William said to the voice on the speakerphone. "All we have to do is study the Legionnaires up close with the sensor net that Lawrence is installing right under their noses in Legion Tower, and then we can use that data to understand why they've manifested the way they have AND why the formulas haven't rendered them all comatose."
"From the Quest Corporation files medical database we've obtained, almost all of the Legionnaires developed their abilities after 'unusual encounters or exposure to animals in this area'," Elijah Russell – the African-American man sitting on the other side of the limo – joined in on the conversation. "In fact, until last August, the Legionnaires were running advertisements looking for persons who had had strange experiences of that nature – that's how they got Ruttheimer, Blum-Deckler, Taylor and Griffin."
"What about Sloane?" Elijah asked. "He developed powers after being in a relationship with Lane. Perhaps the biochemical agents necessary for metability creation can be passed by intimate contact. "
The limo went over a small pothole and jostled its passengers; Fran went ghostly white, her breath catching in her throat, as William glared at the driver and unknowingly looked directly at her.
"Well, unless Rowe's sleeping with Ruttheimer, that theory doesn't pan out, now does it?"
"What makes you so sure that she's sleeping with the boy and not with one of the other girls, Lex?" William chuckled. "Anyway, my Fran's loaded a series of programs onto their computers, and after she finishes the sensor net, we'll get real-time info on all of them that we can integrate into 33.1's research. The disaster we had here two years ago may in fact have been the breakthrough we've been searching for all along."
"And the Legionnaires may be the key." There was a satisfied tone to Lex's voice. "What about the girl?"
"She's not going to be a problem – as long as I keep supplying her with the regeneration formula, she'll do exactly what I tell her. I'll let you know when everything's ready. "
"Good. The sooner we can present the government with something substantial in order to protect humanity and deal with these – Abberant freaks – besides legislation, the better."
The smile William wore during the conversation evaporated as he clicked the speakerphone off and turned to Elijah, who was pouring a generous drink for him. "Ass," he snarled. "I hate that phrase – 'Abberants'. How much more does Fran have to go?"
"She needs to finish bugging the rest of the living quarters and the new subterranean levels," Elijah said, looking over his organizer. "That should take another three days, at most."
"Good. I'll have a little more fun bedding her - and then, I'll slip her something in the Cinderella potion," William replied. "The regeneration formula would have only worked for her for a few more months, anyway – her own powers keep it from being permanent."
"Why can't we just mind wipe her and send her to the 33.1 holding facility for – experimentation?"
"Because even I have standards," William said. "When she's done with this, I'll give her a weekend to remember. I'll feed her a nice meal, we'll have a couple of good nights, and then give her something that'll let her sleep forever – painless and peaceful. It's far better than what would happen to her at the 33.1 facility in Smallville – especially since that crazy woman started working for Luthor. The things she's doing to her human subjects – especially the males..."
He finished his drink and sat back. "If the formula could restore her looks and internal damage permanently, I would have considered keeping her around. You know the saying: 'big woman, lots of sex. – little woman, nothing but sex' - and my little Fran is nothing but sex when she hits the sheets."
"If we could find a healer-"
"Healing is one of the rarest metabilities out there," William said, "right up there with accurate precognition and actual mystical manipulation. From what I understand, there are less than fifty in the world today, and over half are with the U.S. Government – either on active duty or at that – school..."
He almost spat this last word out. "Even the Legion doesn't have one. What am I supposed to do – go snooping around and say, 'I need a healer to take care of a sixteen-year-old runaway metahuman from California who does the occasional errand for me with her powers and makes a pretty good bed warmer, I must admit?' If I can't find a healer to help Darren – well, let's just say Fran's a lower priority. Besides, the formula's only for when I need to look at her in bed. The rest of the time, she can wear that mask."
Elijah suppressed a shudder, and downed half of his own drink. "But you said that in a few months, the formula wouldn't work anymore."
"Yes – and then, she'll be faced with a lifetime of being shunned and ridiculed by society. Better that her last few days be pleasant."
As Fran listened to William and Elijah talk, her hand moved to touch the ruined side of her face, hidden beneath her mask, and felt tears beginning to flow. "Fran prefers lobster tails," William continued, pouring another drink for himself. "She should be finished by the weekend; I want you to have a couple of homard lobsters flown in from Japan for dinner Saturday evening. Get a couple of bottles of a very good Italian white, and she especially loves strawberry-plum shortcake with fresh whipped cream and warm pound cake."
"I'll make the arrangements. Is there anything else, sir?"
"Yes. Have the lab send a dose of the seven-day formula, so she can spend her last days as a beautiful young woman without that mask, and have the yacht prepared. We'll take a long weekend and cruise down to Miami – she does like the water - and she can get some sun. Have someone go out and pick up a couple of nice swimsuits for her."
The man nodded as he scribbled in his organizer. "While you're at it, go ahead and prepare everything for her funeral next Friday. I'll give her the sleeper drug at breakfast Monday morning, spend the week down there and sail back up over the weekend, after the service. She likes white roses with baby's breath. Take care of it."
William finished his drink, unaware of Fran as she slipped out of the speeding vehicle and flew away – or of the eerily serene expression she wore, hidden behind her mask.
"It's actually lighter than I thought it would be," Julia said, looking at the signet ring that rested on her right ring finger. "Thank you."
With a smiling Sandi at her right hand and surrounded by the other Legionnaires – save an annoyed Daria, who didn't even have the good graces to stay as the votes were counted – Quinn extended her hand to Julia. "Welcome to the Legion, Julia."
Julia shook her hand, and looked around at the young people as they all congratulated her. Maybe – just maybe – this won't be as bad as I thought it would be.
Fine. So Julia's in the Legion now, and Jane thinks that our new winged wonder is just the cat's ass.
Daria sat on a bench on the campus of Lawndale State University, idly flipping through a copy of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court as she waited for her Distance Learning instructor's class to recess for the day. As she skimmed the words, she was unaware of the admiring stares were being cast in her direction from many, many onlookers as they passed the spot where she sat outside the doors of the lecture hall ...
What the hell's wrong with all of them? Even Mack – he voted for her – but then, he's a guy, just like the rest of them, and he's checking out her legs – did she have to wear a skirt like that? Yes, it's appropriate, but still...
Whatever. I needed to get away and talk to Professor Evans anyway.
Whenever his class lets out.
Ten minutes later, the students began to pour out, and Daria made her way inside. "Excuse me," she said to a very thin Teaching Assistant who took one look at her and forgot how to speak effectively. "Could you tell me where Professor Evans is?"
"I-ba. I-ba-ba. I mean, he's in the tank tree. He's working on the clock tree – I mean, he's-"
"Andy, stop talking before you embarrass yourself more and throw up in front of her," a tall brunette wearing a fashionably worn fatigue jacket told the young man, gently guiding him away from Daria. "Hi. Morgendorffer – Distance Learning, right?"
The girl held her hand out. "I'm Brenda Nycross. Everybody just calls me 'Bren' – except for the students. They call me 'Psycho Bren'. I've been told I'm a harsh grader."
Daria shook the TA's extended hand. "Daria Morgendorffer. Is he always like that?"
Bren laughed. "With normal girls, not so much. With really pretty girls like you, he turns everything into word salad. We're thinking of taking him out to get drunk one night so somebody will sleep with him and help him take the idea of sex off the pedestal."
Letting the compliment pass by, Daria looked around the lecture hall, not paying attention to the several students who were taking pictures of her with their cell phone cameras. "Where's the Professor?"
"Probably underneath some undergrad from his GE English class," she shrugged, and then, burst out into another happy burst of laughter "He prefers women on top."
Daria shook her head. "Great. Even when I deal with them only by correspondence, all the people I know are jerks."
Bren gave her a playful push on her arm. "Yes, he is a jerk, and a killer of dreams, hopes and ambition. On the other hand, he has a lovely singing voice."
A small smile appeared upon Daria's face.
"What did you need to talk to him about?" Bren asked, when her eyes fell upon the book in the smaller woman's hand. "Oh. He's got you reading those - the works of Mr. Clemons, I see."
She leaned in and whispered, "From now on, when you have to take care of anything regarding the class – only agree to see him here on campus, at his office. If he asks you to drop by his home, don't do it – unless you want to add to his panty collection."
Daria's well-known scowl appeared. "You're not serious."
Bren nodded. "Thirty-nine years old, in great shape, and a well-known aficionado of the films of John Hughes. He's fixated on the redheads in those films – Molly Ringwald in Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Lea Thompson in Some Kind of Wonderful-"
She took stock of Daria's lush, full auburn hair. "Moving on. Aside from him chasing everything in a skirt, he's actually not half-bad. Just don't get into any 'deep discussions that last hours' with him' – write a paper, instead. He loves reading essays – that's what he gives as a take-home final for his classes, instead of an exam."
"That works for me," Daria said, turning away. "Thanks for the warning."
"Hey – Morgendorffer!"
Daria turned back to face Bren, who continued on. "Several of us TA's like to hang out in the beer garden over at the Good Time Chinese restaurant after classes." She nodded slightly. "After classes, after five, on weekends, whenever somebody gets his loan check and springs for beer, steak fries and won ton... it's kind of fun, and the people can manage to carry a conversation without being snobs, or from the shallow end of the gene pool. Want to come and check it out?"
"No... I probably can't. All of the stuff with the Legion and everything."
Bren picked up a stack of papers. "Open offer – drop in if you want."
Daria watched as the other young woman left, then started towards the door herself. I can't remember the last time I had some good sweet-and-sour pork, or crab Rangoon – and if Jane can go off to new places with new people...
As she stepped from the building and into open air, Daria suddenly found herself spiraling into the sky, moving so quickly that she had no time to react!
Trapped in some kind of energy field that held her fast as it grabbed her from the sidewalk and lifted her up to the top of the tallest building on campus, the psychic Legionnaire dropped to the roof. She looked around, and then turned to look up – and astonishment took her voice away as she saw –
Daria stared upwards numbly as she saw Jodie Landon levitating overhead, wearing one of the new Legion uniforms (black, with a purple undershirt and purple trim) and a white belt – which was glowing with the same energy that had swept her up to the roof.
As Daria watched, Jodie pushed a couple of buttons on her belt. She floated down to the rooftop, and the energy filed around the Legionnaire faded away. "Hey, Daria," she said, holding her hand out to help her up. "Got a minute to talk?"