Legion of Lawndale Heroes Mini
'For The Boys at Camp Victory'
Cadet Second Class Molly Castronova brushed a thick, shaggy lock of her long, raven-black hair away from her forehead, and stepped from the doorway into the enclosed observation lounge on the roof of Swedlund Hall.
"The Marines said that you were up here."
Daria Morgendorffer turned to see the young woman who she had been assigned to as a roommate for her stay at the U.S. Academy of Extranormal Affairs. "Hard to sleep, or getting your head clear after being around a lot of people all day long?"
The auburn-haired girl turned around, surprise on her face as she looked at the girl in the USAES sweat suit. "Are you a telepath?"
"No, but my cadre was filled with them." Molly motioned towards a seat. "May I?"
Daria nodded; Molly sat down. "They usually put between six to ten kids in a cadre; I was the only non-psi in a group of nine kids. You got any brothers?"
"No – it's just me and my sister."
"Oh, yeah – the little redhead that's turning heads all over the campus."
A surprised eyebrow rose high. "Really?"
"People put a high value on what they don't see every day. You guys are normal girls and boys with powers – emphasis on 'normal' – and just the way you guys walk sets you apart. Your sister is like a butterfly; the way she moves is just so carefree, and she catches their attention. I've heard that you've caught some attention, too."
Daria rolled her eyes. "Oh. That. I haven't even seen the stupid magazine yet-"
"I've seen the pictures, though – people blast the images to me whenever I walk by. They can't help it, and I can't help picking them up. A lot of the other telepaths saw the magazine, too, so I have gotten a very good look at the pictures."
Molly crossed her legs as she sat back. "I used to get that a lot when I arrived. I came from Laguna Beach – oh, I've heard a lot of jokes, especially with the way I look and no, I'm not being stuck-up – and I'd just walk through the images they'd project out at me. God, the things boys stuck in the Midwest think when they meet a girl raised on the beach in California... I developed early and I spent a lot of time playing beach volleyball and swimming, so when I got here, tongues were really hanging out."
I can imagine, Daria thought. Damn, you have to work to find an average-looking girl around here – an average-looking cadet around here! "You said, 'blast images'. What do you mean?"
Molly smiled. "It's better if I show you. What's your favorite food?"
Barely had the word 'Pizza' escaped from her mouth when a 'Garbage' pizza appeared on the table next to Daria. "How did you – did you read my mind?"
"No, I can't do that – well, not technically. I can pull the image of anything in your surface thoughts – anything you're actively thinking of, nothing from your memories or subconscious – and project either flat-screen images or holograms, with perfect sound, image and color, or just see them in my own head. I can also project my own surface thoughts like that, too. That caused more than a few embarrassing moments in my first year, because I had a bad habit of projecting either my daydreams or regular dreams onto walls when I drifted off or went to sleep."
Not to mention after I got to your room this afternoon, Daria thought, thinking of how she had been very quiet and not awakened Molly when she entered the cadet's room – and of how she blushed all the way down to her toenails when she came out of the bathroom and saw the hologram of what had to be Molly's California home, with Molly and another girl (who actually seemed somewhat familiar, come to think about it) kissing passionately... How do you tell someone that you accidentally peeked in on a sex dream they had?
"I've also got a 'combat sense' that warns me of danger a good thirty seconds ahead of time, and a Class Three psychometric power, so I can go into an area, or touch an object that belongs to someone, and project holograms of what happened in that area, or what the person was doing when they had the object. I can go back about one year; it's kind of cool, really."
Daria sat up, and her hand passed through the hologram of the pizza. "Hmn. How long have you been here?"
"Six years. I was fourteen, and came in as a Cadet Fourth Year – most of the cadets actually come in as Third or Fourth Years, because a lot of people manifest around puberty. All those hormones, teen angst, dreams and desires, doing all sorts of things because you don't really know any better... the metagene all but jump-starts on its own. You ever think about why so many people with powers here at the Academy tend to lean towards being 'flying bricks', having mental powers, or just some sort of flight power? Think of the way most kids feel during their teen years, and especially around their first two years in high school. They actually started calling it the '90210 Syndrome' in Metagenetics classes."
Daria blinked. "Flying brick?"
"A standard grouping of superhuman abilities for a LOT of cadets - flight, super-strength, super-speed and some level of invulnerability. You wouldn't believe how many flying bricks are enrolled here – and as for telepaths, well, I understand that you met the big guns when you got here, as well as the Class Three psionics with sensory powers – all thirty or so of them. The rest of them either decided to stay slightly clear of you or used their Mark 30 augmenters to totally suppress their powers when you arrived; you're so powerful that you could burn a lot of them out."
"How many psychics are here?"
"Telepaths, or people with psychic-based powers?" Molly laughed. "Just over fifteen percent of the Corps of Cadets – and a solid five percent are telepaths. Let's just say that you have a lot of people who are interested in you. Anyway, about my cadre – they started treating me like the only sister in a family with lots of boys. I know so much about psychic training that it's not even funny, and after four years with them, I'm very sensitive to how and what psychics do. I figured that you'd find somewhere to be alone for a while."
Daria shifted in her seat. "I'm not trying to be stand-offish-"
Molly gave her an understanding smile. "Like I said before, 'I know.' I just came up to keep you company, in case a couple of the boy puppies around here shows up. 'Boys will be boys', and all of that."
They were both quiet for several minutes. "Where are your friends? Are they all still here?"
A strange look went across Molly's face. "Some of them."
They both sat in awkward silence. "Hey – let's see what kind of taste you have in pizza."
She reached over, and took a slice of the pizza, biting in as Daria watched in amazement. "Oh – my power got a little stronger with practice, and as I got older; I can actually make some of my holograms real. Nothing over my actual weight – I can make any kind of clothes I need, or foods – small things. No cars, which sucks, because I miss having my own car around."
"Yes, but they only stay for about an hour, at the most. I'm still working on that." Molly glanced over at Daria, her face inquisitive. "Oh. I was projecting when you came in this afternoon, wasn't I?"
Daria hesitated, and then nodded; Molly took on a sheepish expression. "Oops. I guess the little hand says it's time to be embarrassed. I took a weekend liberty last weekend and went back home to visit my parents. They had taken a spot-of-the-moment trip down to Baja and I messed them, but I found out that a – a friend of mine from high school – was back in town from shooting movies up in Vancouver. We, ah, spent a bit of time getting re-acquainted with each other."
"Can I ask you something?" Daria spoke up, jumping away from that subject very quickly. "Are all people with psychic powers so – I mean – open with everything about themselves?"
"Occupational hazard," Molly said. "You haven't spent much time around other psis, have you? The openness is a side effect; that's part of why a lot of the cadets just went dark when you arrived. You haven't had anyone just popping into your mind like sticking their head through the open door of someone's room, and from what I've heard, you don't have much in the way of active defenses, but you could probably just burn some of the low-powered cadets down just by throwing your full power at them and shouting mentally. God help them if you develop some form of mental blast."
Molly all but devoured the first slice, and reached for another. "God, this is a great pizza, I can see why it's your favorite. I'm sorry for embarrassing you about earlier; I'll take some 'flush' before I go to sleep tonight. That way, you won't wake up in the Veritas Movie House." She shrugged. "My grandpa would tell stories about being in the Navy and stationed at Great Lakes, and about this movie house in Central Illinois that him and his friends would drive down to because it showed X-rated films. I've always remembered that."
"You're going into the Navy?"
"Are you kidding? Department of Homeland Security, as a special investigator – and after I fulfill my Federal Service obligation, I get to go out as a private security contractor for at least twenty or thirty times the pay! Why do I want to go into the military? The pay sucks, the UCMJ is just too strict on anything fun you want to do, and even though I wear them now, uniforms are not my idea of what I want to wear to work every morning."
Daria shrugged, and reached over for a slice of the pizza. "Can you think of something to drink?"
Molly smiled; in an instant, two huge mugs of fruit punch appeared on the table besides the pizza. "You know – you're not what most of us expected." When Daria's eyes flicked up, she shrugged. "Rumor had it that you were some sort of stuck-up teen super-bitch, and when you got hooked up with that Legion thing..." Her voice trailed off. "You don't seem like that."
"What do I seem like to you?"
"Well, honestly – you seem just like everyone else," Molly told her. "You seem almost normal, compared to the folks around this petting zoo."
The door of the lounge opened, and the two young women looked up to see a female Marine in fatigues standing there. "Cadet Castronova – lights out in thirty."
"Thank you, Gunny," Molly said, and motioned towards Daria. "Gunny Swisten, this is Daria-"
"Morgendorffer," the Marine finished the sentence. "I've got three sons. I definitely know who you are."
Daria's head dropped, and Gunny Swisten – looking quite fit for forty-two years of age – stepped forward. "You're not embarrassed by those photos in that magazine, are you? Young lady, you have nothing to be embarrassed about, if the way my boys go on about you is any judge of things."
Molly's ears perked up. "You heard from Lee?"
"Yesterday," the Gunny said. "His squad came off a sweep, and he sent an e-mail saying that him and his friends were okay."
"Gunny's oldest son is a Marine, too – he's over in Iraq, right now."
"Oh." Daria didn't know what to say, as a memory flowed back to her - a memory from the first time they demonstrated their powers in public:
"Mike Warwick," said one
man. "I have a question for all of you."
The three turned to him.
"What are the three of you doing in the United States? Why aren't you in Iraq, with the American troops?"
Complete silence. Quinn's mouth dropped open. Jane had nothing to say, looking very uncomfortable.
Daria shot the man a look that would have killed if she possessed that ability, which she did not. She was still wiping the grime out of her skull with the lawyer; she didn't need a question like that on her mind. It had crossed her mind before.
"I mean...my son is over there, serving with the Marines as a captain, and I tell you, our soldiers can't get entertainment like this! That was incredible! You should do a USO tour!"
Daria frowned. He wasn't being a jerk. I was being a jerk. Great.
Dawn Hall took control as the three girls relaxed. "I'm sure, Mr. Warwick, that the Legionnaires would want to go...but they're all minors, and young girls in a war zone...."
"No problem. I understand. A pity that you're not over eighteen. Our troops would enjoy seeing what I saw here tonight. Congratulations, and I hope your enterprise succeeds with flying colors."
"-And when he hears that I met you, he's going to be asking questions left and right! He's eighteen – went and signed up while he was still in high school, and went in the day after graduation – he graduated mid-term. This is his first tour over there, and he's been collecting photos and stories about you – he likes smart girls with glasses, always has."
A smirk went across Daria's face. "I just had an idea. Where can I get a couple of those magazines?"
The Gunny laughed. "I bought three for my boys – I was going to have you autograph them, before you and your friends leave."
Daria's smile grew wider.
One week later...
"Hey, Lee! Your mommy sent you another 'care package!'"
Marine Private Lee Swisten lifted his head as PFC Nicolas Fabiano dropped a box on the end of his bunk. "I'll open it later."
He heard the sound of boots, and looked up to see several other Marines enter. It had already become common knowledge that the Private's mother was not only a bad-ass Marine who had taken a few scalps in the early days of Operation Enduring Freedom when the convoy she had been riding in had come under attack and she started busting caps on insurgents – but was an excellent baker. Lee's fellow Marines had learned to look out for boxes for him, because they always had homemade chocolate chip cookies inside...
"On your feet, Swisten," a voice said; Lee looked up to see Captain Michael Warwick III enter, his Kevlar helmet cradled under one arm. "I understand that the Gunny sent you a package."
"Yes, sir, she did," Lee said, swinging his legs off his bunk. "Nick, let me see your knife."
Slicing the top of the box open, Lee extracted two one-gallon Ziploc bags - both filled with fresh chocolate-chip cookies – that he passed around. He dug around to find a quart bag filled with cookies; he knew that those were just for him, while he shared the others with his troopmates. "The Gunny did herself proud with this batch, Lee," Nick said, sheathing his blade after Lee handed it back. "Hey, look – she sent you a magazine."
Thirty seconds later, other Marines and soldiers walking past the tent stopped and turned to look at they heard a chorus of voices saying "Dammmmn-!" in unison.
Lee looked with wide eyes at the foldout poster of Daria in Val magazine – and the message written in black marker on the side, so that not an inch of skin was covered over:
This is a little something for you and all of the boys at Camp Victory.
Be safe over there!