Part One: Acquisitions
"This is so cool!" said Energia, giggling like someone
much younger than thirteen. "This has got to be the best
Christmas gift ever!"
"We're barely out of the atmosphere, yet," said
Template, smiling inside her helmet.
These second generation super space suits were much
slimmer, lighter, more comfortable and, of course, more
capable than the prototype Template had worn before.
"Wow," said Energia, falling behind a bit. "This is
"You all right?"
"It's just... I can feel it!" she said, slowly
extending her arms, hands spread wide.
"Hon, talk to me," said Template, moving close to her,
starting to worry about anoxia.
"I can feel the layers and swirls in the magnetic
field," said Energia, voice full of wonder. "I can feel the
plasma sliding through it, like sand through fingers. I
didn't know space was so... alive!"
"You may be the only person on Earth who would actually
feel that way," said Template, a bit envious. "Sorry to bust
your bubble, but we need to get back on flight plan."
"Oh; right," said Energia, with an embarrassed laugh.
The hours actually passed quickly. Soon, the Moon
filled their field of view.
"Ooh! Let's go see the magnetic launcher before we land
at the city! I wonder what that feels like!"
"We're on a filed flight plan," said Template. "It's
dangerous to deviate from it. Especially to fly over what's
considered an essential military installation."
"The suits have IFF," Energia pointed out. "They'll
know who we are."
"There's still locations - here and on Earth - where
they'd shoot first and notify the next of kin later. Much
"Ow. Okay. Guess I'll just have to ask for a tour."
Satisfied she wasn't going to fly off and get herself
killed, Template contacted Lunar Traffic Control. They were
directed (via both voice and HUD) to a particular lock in
the Port Authority Dome. There they were given a brief check
and allowed official entry.
One of the improvements in this model of suit was the
elimination of the need for talcum powder. After the duo was
escorted to an unoccupied locker room they easily pulled off
the space suits and donned the costumes they had carried in
the small storage compartments at the bottoms of the
backpacks. Another improvement was the elimination of the
urine cup; the new suits handled hygiene matters far more
gracefully. They had even dealt with such normal processes
as shed skin cells and bacterial buildup, so there was no
need for a shower. Soon Template and Energia were in costume
and quite presentable.
"How was your flight?" said Polly, their contact, as
they exited from the locker room.
"Wonderful!" gushed Energia, practically bouncing in
the artificial gravity. "I flew to the Moon on my own
"I have to admit, that's something to be proud of,"
said Template, grinning. "But she couldn't have done it
without your suit."
"Oh, yeah; thank you!"
"You're quite welcome. The data your aunt provided was
"What makes you think she's my aunt?" said Energia,
quickly and with feigned innocence.
"I'm not her aunt," said Template, since, as Randy, she
was actually the uncle. Her next statement was also true,
and also deliberately misleading. "Friend of the family."
"Ah," said Polly, nodding and not buying a word of it.
"Anyway, the data Template provided was very useful in
finalizing the design. Or at least the design for this
model. You know how engineers are."
"They know when good enough is good enough," said
Template, nodding, "but are never really satisfied."
Polly Sanders was a third-generation Lunie, and one of
the first born under artificial gravity. Since the
population was still pretty low, and much work still had to
be done simply to support the people living there, and she
was one of the few comfortable in a full gee, she was a
designated liaison with Earthers. The fact that she was good
with people only made her more in demand for the job.
"Would you believe we already have over twenty orders?"
she said, as she escorted them to the debriefing room.
"Nearly half are paying the full price, instead of letting
us monitor them for a discount."
"I didn't know there were that many wealthy flying
supers," said Template, surprised.
"Well, not all are paying for their own suits. Some
have sponsors. However, a big chunk of them belong to the
"Which flying club?" said Energia, puzzled.
"The Flying Club," said Template. "Founded by a group
of six supers who could fly under their own power or via
devices of their own invention, back in the late Thirties.
Most members are pretty wealthy, and the rest can call in
favors from some pretty impressive people and
"Well, the more we make, the cheaper the suits get,"
said Polly, as they seated themselves to wait for the
engineers. "Of course, not all super flyers are able to use
"Cabiria, one of the students joining the school for
the second semester, is like that," said Template, nodding.
"Her name means Born of Fire, and she's a flamer. Besides
materials problems, the oxygen requirements would be too
"Y'know, I hadn't even thought of that," said Polly,
nodding in turn. "Oh! Here they come..."
* * *
They wound up spending two days, courtesy of Earthside
Lunar Research. Mostly walking around the main dome and
going on tours, but also being interviewed about how the
suits had worked and asked for suggestions. When they were
ready to leave they were handed the same suits, but with
some upgrades already installed and more promised for later.
Since both Template and Energia had been doing some shopping
the expanded storage compartments were definitely a welcome
They exited through what may have been the same lock,
and lifted off.
"I don't understand why you're so easy about the suits
transmitting data," said Template, "when you're almost
paranoid about the Super Monitoring System."
They were already well under way back to Earth, the
Moon shrinking behind them.
"That super detection system makes me nervous," said
Energia, shifting her posture uneasily while maintaining a
steady acceleration. "I can take the suit off and leave it
at the school. That thing can find us anywhere, any time."
"Ike Kenniman is very careful about who has access to
it, and he's pretty trustworthy."
"Yeah, but what if the government sets up its own
system? Or a supervillain?"
"The UN and the US government have both tried for years
to copy Ike's system and so far haven't managed to produce
anything useable. Supervillains have put up such systems,
but they're detected and removed in short order." Template
could tell the girl wasn't too reassured by this. "Honey,
nothing is perfect, and few things are certain. Keep in mind
that the system could be used to find you in an emergency.
Also, people do know there's a problem and are working on
it. Meanwhile, if you don't want to be detected, just don't
use your powers."
"Yeah, right," the teenager muttered. She sighed then
grinned, turning so Template could see her expression,
through the faceplate. "And miss all this?"
"Well, the Super Monitoring System doesn't work outside
Low Earth Orbit," said Template, smiling back. "So relax.
"Anyway, before I forget..."
She moved in close and gave Template an enthusiastic
"Best. Christmas. Present. Ever. And it's only the
* * *
Randy had arranged for his niece to get her present
early, which left him - or, rather, Template - free to work
on projects for the school over the most of the holidays.
Some of those included recruiting new students for the
second semester. However, just now he was relaxing at the
Intrepids' base. Of course, for supers, relaxation often
included catching up on some rather odd subjects.
"I'm trying to figure out why one branch of the US government is enthusiastically supporting the school, while another is trying to destroy us, and neither seems aware of the other."
"The US government is far from a homogenous
organization," said the Black Mask. "People in general tend
to focus on what applies to their interests and not even
notice anything else, and bureaucrats take this to extremes.
And those in charge of bureaucracies tend to focus on the
particular features appropriate to what they're interested
in, and don't think much about the others. The US Department
of Education is supporting the school because it is handling
super children, which means they don't have to."
"At least we have some good news," said Bowman. "All
five of the recently created government super teams are
having serious in-house trouble, in addition to some
accusations of harassment and civil rights violations. Two
of them are officially on hiatus, and two more may as well
be. There are major calls to stop inhibiting the private
supers and teams and let them do their jobs."
"The only government-created super agency which has had
any staying power is the T.O.W.E.R. Agents," said the Black
Mask. "Still going strong after more than forty years."
"They're the ones who have offered the school one of
their mothballed SSTs, if we'll go out to the boneyard and
"That's more good news," said the Black Mask, nodding.
"Those are quite useful vehicles."
"Hold on," said Solange, grabbing the remote.
"Something about Thurlin and surgery."
"...and doctors say the procedure was successful and
that after only a single full day of rest President Thurlin
will be capable of making intelligent, rational decisions."
"Wow!" said Rapscallion. "Those guys must be miracle
"Down, boy," said the Black Mask, though he was
"Uh-oh!" said Rapscallion. "I see Dr. Whiskers
approaching, and she looks serious."
"I have something private to discuss with Randy," the
felinoid said, as she approached the table. "Nothing bad;
just some confidential information to pass along."
"Sure," said Randy, rising to follow her out of the
"We finally completed your gene mapping," said Dr.
Whiskers, once they were away from other ears. "As we
suspected, you have a very high inherent power level.
However, your only native power is sharing power. Taking or
"Wait... I've given my power to others, but never tried
taking from them."
"You're what's usually known as a two-way leach. The
experts on super genetics and powers I have consulted
suspect that the DNA implantation you received merely
provided an unusual method for application."
"This would explain my niece's powers, though," said
Randy, nodding. "That makes both of us a type of energy
"Yes. But be very careful if you decide to try
experimenting with taking power from others. When you give
power you can feel how much you have left. When you take..."
"I could take too much," said Randy, seriously, nodding
to confirm he understood the risk.
* * *
"Are you sure this thing will fly?" said Template, with
good reason for her concern, as she strapped herself in the
copilot's seat. "And I don't know why you wanted me up here.
I'm qualified to fly hoppers and a couple of other common
types of team vehicles, but this..."
"Checked her out myself," said Junker, distractedly.
"She's old but this is a sound design, in use for over
twenty years before being phased out. They did a good job
mothballing her, too. All we had to do was clean her up,
replace a few dry-rotted rubber parts and a few other things
just to be safe, add gas, compressed air and electricity,
and she's ready to fly. And, on the off-chance something
does go wrong, my flight suit will protect me while you fly
me to safety."
Template still wasn't sure, and became less so as she
watched - and heard - him prepare for liftoff.
"Let's see... Mixture's to the rich, the props are
forward, the suction gages check, three green lights, doors
closed, boost pumps on... Here we go!"
The Little Piggy Hoedown lurched into the air, straight
up, riding four pillars of superheated, supersonic air.
"A bit more abrupt than I was expecting!" said
Template, barely managing not to wreck the seat armrests.
"This isn't an airliner," said Junker, smirking.
Less than two hours later they were circling Pine
Island, and they only took that long because he wouldn't
push the plane past Mach 4 without time to analyze the data
from this preliminary flight. Not long after they were on
"No offense, but I'd much rather do that under my own
power," muttered Template, as they disembarked.
"Just remember, most supers can't," said Junker,
emphasizing his point with a raised index finger. "Which is
why we need this thing."
"Well, here come the other techies, so I better get out
of the way. See you the day after New Year's!"
* * *
Karen waited until they were in Randy's car and driving
away from the family holiday dinner before voicing her
"Randy, dear, I'm sorry, but your parents are, well..."
"Crazy," said Randy, nodding.
"I wasn't going to go that far," said Karen, with a
laugh. "They're actually charmingly eccentric."
"Try living with them," said Randy, rolling his eyes.
"Seriously. My sister, too, though less so. Seems like about
two thirds on both sides have at least some minor quirk, and
a good third on my mother's side are flat-out weird."
"I wonder if that's somehow connected to the super gene
that runs in them." Karen shook her head. "Anyway, your
sister is odd but nice, in a slightly butch way."
"I never thought of her as butch," said Randy, pursing
his lips in thought. "Alpha male, maybe..."
"Are you saying gender dysphoria runs in your family?"
"Well, there was that one great-uncle they say liked to
dress as an old woman on Halloween..."
Karen laughed, then punched him on the arm.
"Anyway, I met your parents. Now it's your turn."
"I met your parents for Thanksgiving."
"Want me to hit you again? You know what I mean."
"I know what you mean," Randy reluctantly admitted.
"Lunch and a leisurely walk around the Bermuda's less
* * *
Template and Colossa were having lunch at a tourist
restaurant in Bermuda. Only they were in civies - the former
in a sundress; the latter in Bermuda shorts and tube top -
and using the names Susan Platt and Karen White. It was a
girl's day out, just the two of them, their last chance for
some public socializing before the second semester started
and Template would be busy for an indefinite time.
"Y'know, you're attracting more attention tugging at it
that way than if you'd just leave it alone and enjoy the
"I was counting on a longer dress," said "Susan,"
sourly. "Not to mention a more comfortable bra. I greatly
prefer the cups in my costume."
"You're showing less leg than most of the young women
in here," said Karen, grinning. "Me included. And a lot less
Susan muttered under her breath.
"You need to get out of costume more," said Karen.
"Seriously. You could wear civies with your mask and that
would be fine at the school."
"I like my costume," said Susan, firmly. "If I ever get
complacent about putting it on, remind me of this outing."
"So Tiger is going to take you?" said Karen, trying to
change the subject. "To interview that prospective student
you were telling me about, I mean."
"Yeah," said Susan, nodding as she stirred her fork
around her salad plate, wondering if it were worth the
effort to chase down the last bits of vegetables. "Eve says
I needed to see the girl myself to evaluate her, but Tiger
insisted that I was too likely to get into trouble being
escorted by any of the staff except the director, and that
he didn't do that sort of thing. They owe Tiger a bunch of
favors for stuff he's done for them, including his working
to get this girl out of there. So they're letting him escort
"I don't know," said Karen, with a shiver. "Those
"Are more scared of Tiger than you are of them. I'll be
"And the courts aren't protesting? About a convicted
killer being released to the school, I mean."
"She was offered probation - if that's the right word -
but turned it down, actually requesting imprisonment for her
own protection. Her father killed just about everyone she
knew before she managed to kill him, and some of his
followers could still be after her. She didn't have anywhere
to go, and would have felt she was endangering anyone who
took her in. When Tiger mentioned the school to her she
expressed interest, and when Eve agreed to consider
accepting her she asked the judge for her case if he would
allow this, and got his blessing. She's a juvie, she was
under extreme duress, and she removed a serious, long-time
menace to society."
"She'll have a lot of catching up to do, after missing
the first semester."
"She's been working on her GED through a prison
program. The sociologist working with her says she's bright,
already has a good command of the basics and has been making
excellent progress." Susan sighed, looking a bit sad. "She's
never actually been in a normal school, never had friends
her own age... Now that her father is dead she just wants to
be able to learn and socialize and stop hiding. To have as
normal a life as she can, considering."
Their main course arrived just then and they were busy
eating for a while.
"I'm actually more concerned about some of the other
new students," said Susan, finally. An expression of disgust
flitted briefly across her face. "We've got an underage
tease who earns money signing autographs - and who knows
what else - at super shows, then skips out on her booth
fees. We've got..."
"You're such a prude," said Karen, teasing. "Although I
have to admit some of those shows and conventions are pretty
"Say, this fish is good!"
"How come I've had it before and you haven't?"
"Just busy, I guess."
* * *
Holding hands, they walked slowly around the port town,
talking and taking in the sights, but mostly taking in each
other. As they walked, though, Susan's demeanor changed. She
seemed preoccupied by something, bothered by it. Finally,
she broached the subject.
"Do you ever feel... scornful of normals?"
Karen considered for a moment.
"Not scornful. Maybe... disappointed. And not because
they lack powers. Most of them just don't do anything."
"Yeah. That's pretty much what I..."
They were interrupted by a group of dingy young men
stepping into their path.
"Well, well, well," said one of them, smiling nastily
through a mouth full of decayed teeth. "Lookie what we got
here. A pair of lezzies."
Susan looked around, and realized they'd strayed well
out of the tourist area and into a commercial section near a
low-rent district. She sighed in aggravation.
"Let's go," she said, quietly, to Karen, releasing her
hand and turning.
There were more behind them.
"Great," said Karen, sighing. "Our last chance to spend
some time together, and these jerks have to ruin it."
"We goin' ruin lot more than that!" one of the young
men said, leering.
"I don't think so," said Susan. "We're teachers at the
Pine Island Academy."
"You t'ink we let you go, 'cause you teachers?" said
another one, laughing. "We hate teachers!"
"No, I meant..."
She was interrupted by one of the young men grabbing
both her arms. Susan glared at him, then lifted two meters
off the ground, shrugging him loose as she rose.
"I meant that we're supers, who teach super children."
There was a pause. Then, without word or ceremony, they
"I think I need a shower," said Susan, with a sour
grimace, looking down at her arms as she landed. "In boiling
* * *
"The next time you feel a need to defend yourself when
in civilian attire, please do so without the overt use of
super human powers," said Andrea, a bit stiffly.
"Yes, ma'am," said Template, sighing.
"That said, I'm glad neither of you were hurt. Such
encounters are rare in Bermuda, but they will happen
anywhere you have a large population. Simple odds."
"I just wish we could have reported it to the
authorities, but the fake ID I was using wouldn't have stood
"At any rate, classes begin next week and we still have
three students for you to recruit. Though I daresay one will
be less willing than the others.
* * *
"Is that it?" said Template, peering at an ominous,
blocky, monolithic structure.
She was flying, carrying Tiger in her arms after
meeting him in a forest not far from the prison complex.
"No, that is the Slippery Elmer Holding Facility," said
"Slippery Elmer Hotchkins is a small time hood with a
single, low-level power which makes it almost impossible to
catch or hold him."
"What's his power?"
"He's almost impossible to catch or hold."
"And they built that whole thing just to hold one guy."
"He aggravated some important people about twenty-five
years ago. They use his personal prison to test new methods
and measures. So it largely pays for itself. If something
can hold Elmer..."
"I get the picture."
"Okay, see that helicopter pad? I told them we'd be
Template obediently and gracefully swooped down to the
designated spot. There were already several people waiting
for them. Once Tiger was on his feet he walked up to the one
in front - who was also the largest by a good margin.
"What's up, Chuck?"
"Do you have to use the same, stupid joke every time?"
"Of course I do. It's part of the spell."
"Spell?" said Template
"And part of my punishment," the big man said, with a
"Explanations later," said the lean, ascetic-looking
woman who now advanced to the fore. "Your appointment is
scheduled for eleven thirty-five to eleven fifty-five.
Exactly. There is no time for dawdling."
Template gave Tiger a puzzled look as the woman spun
around and marched off. He just shrugged and followed,
leaving Template to catch up.
They entered an armored car with blacked-out windows.
As it started moving, the dour woman handed them clip-on
"These assure your entry. Only you can assure your
Again, Template glanced at Tiger, who rolled his eyes a
What security procedures they passed through could not
be seen. Soon, however, the vehicle stopped. Only Tiger and
Template got out, into what appeared to be an underground
garage. The armored car quickly closed its doors and left,
exiting by a heavily armored automatic door. Ahead was a
glassed-in security booth beside an equally heavily armored
personnel door. Inside was a woman with bright red skin and
"Good morning, Clarity," said Tiger as they approached.
"Good morning, Tiger," said the strange woman. "Who's
"Not a magical creature." Tiger turned back to the
guardian. "This is Template. Comrade in arms. Here to
interview Beverly van Morrison."
"Oh, right," said Clarity, nodding. "Hope you can help
"That's why I'm here," said Template.
The massive door opened with a slight whuff of
displaced air. Inside was a small chamber just large enough
for three. Tiger and Template entered. The outer door
closed, there was a slight pause, and the inner one opened.
"These are the strangest people..." said Template, as
they walked down the narrow corridor to yet another armored
"Most of the security people are former inmates. Or
even current ones," said Tiger. "Norms get antsy when it
comes to locking up supernaturals. Most of these measures
are overkill by a large margin for the typical inmate. Norms
also tend to lump all supernaturals in together, so there
actually are a few here for whom these measures are needed."
Tiger punched buttons on the keypad and the door
opened. Beyond was another hallway, this one with a glass
wall on the left. Through it, below, she could see... them.
"Just stick close. We're now in the general population
area. Most of the people here don't want anything to do with
me, and nearly all are trying to get out and behaving
themselves. But there are a few opportunists..."
Template, being a public super hero, was used to being
stared at. She'd also visited high-security prisons before.
This was... different. There were the familiar expressions
of curiosity, anger and even lust. But there was also
Even though bright lamps strove to illuminate every
cranny of the chamber, shadows still lingered in odd places.
She stuck very close indeed to Tiger as they walked along
the elevated hallway.
"They have men and women together?" she whispered.
"Not enough of them to justify separate recreational
facilities. The elevator could take a while to get here.
Just be cool. They can't physically reach us."
Template only now noticed the elevator at the end of
the hall. Again, Tiger entered numbers on a security keypad.
And they waited. Template kept feeling her eyes drawn to the
tableau below. She would deliberately turn to face ahead,
then her mind would wander and she would, with a start,
realize she was staring through the glass.
And then, one of those times, she realized she was
looking at someone plastered against the outside of the
glass, staring at her.
It was the eyes which got her. Red and glinting with
light grey highlights, like gambler's dice worn round.
Kill your companion. Break through this barrier and
free me. Then, I will give you pleasure such as no mortal
has before known.
That last broke the spell. Template tore her gaze away
with a tiny cry. Tiger quickly moved between her and the
"Back off, Vlad," said Tiger, sternly, his tiger-striped aura flaring. "She's with me."
The vampire winced, and withdrew back into the shadows.
"Wow," said Template, shaking her head as Tiger quickly
led her away. "Still dizzy."
"He's one of the stronger dominators here," said Tiger,
leading her away. "He usually knows better than to try
anything when resistors are around, though. He can only
focus on one target at a time. Guess it's a good thing
you're really not his type."
"Thank God for that!" said Template, with a nervous
laugh and a shudder.
The elevator arrived and they entered, Template unable
to prevent the escape of a sigh of relief.
Down and down they went. From the indicator, Template
saw they had started near the top. There were no identifying
labels, just numbers. Then finally the elevator stopped,
just three levels from the bottom.
"Okay, she's through there," said Tiger. "Her social
worker will introduce you. I'll be just outside the door.
She's really not dangerous, keeping her down here is more
for her protection and that of any inmates who might
mistakenly try to take advantage of her, but there's always
a chance one of the others could do something particularly
sly. If you need help - or just want out - yell."
"Right," said Template, straightening herself, and
trying to keep in mind that she was here to interview a 16
year old girl who had gotten in trouble through no fault of
Tiger opened the door for her. Inside was a small
meeting room with a table and three chairs. An older woman
and a pale teenage girl were already sitting. Template
closed to the table.
"Hello, Beverly," said Template, extending her hand.
The girl hesitated, then timidly extended her hand. It
felt warm and dry.
"I'm Elizabeth Grainger," said the older woman, also
shaking hands. "I'm a certified child psychologist with
thirteen years of dealing with young people in trouble. I
even have previous experience with supers. Though I have to
tell you, this has been a new experience for me."
"I know this will be uncomfortable for you," said
Template to the girl, sympathetically, as she sat across
from the other two. "But I need you to tell me your
background. How you came to be..."
"A vampire?" said Beverly, flatly. "My father did this
to me. And he did worse, to my mother and those she
recruited to try and protect me from him.
"He seduced my mother, who barely survived his
attentions," said Beverly, quietly, looking down at her
hands. "Her friends got her away from him, then they managed
to keep her pregnancy and my birth concealed from him for
over twelve years. They were a bit surprised when I appeared
to be a normal human child. That helped me hide. Eventually,
though, he found out and decided to recruit me. Naturally,
my mother and her friends resisted."
Template nodded, not sure what, if anything, she should
"Over the next four years he made repeated attempts
to... acquire me. My heritage began to assert itself, at
first through increased physical prowess, then through other
abilities. I was still human, though, what the Rom call a
Dhampir. And with the help of my family was able to resist
my father's efforts. I believe, now, that these were more to
test me and stimulate my development, rather than serious
attempts to liberate me from my protectors. Because, eight
months ago, he almost casually overwhelmed our defenses,
killing nearly everyone inside them.
"I resisted him for six weeks," said Beverly, her voice
choking slightly. "Even after he bled and bonded me. I...
kept surprising both of us with my strength. Finally, in a
fit of desperation, I attacked him when he was off-guard.
And, using what I had learned from him but refused to use
otherwise, managed to take his power. With the result you
see before you. And the result that my father was, finally,
"And you're sure he's dead," said Template, surprised
at the anxiety in her voice.
The girl nodded.
"I didn't even need the coroner's report, or to see the
cremation. I knew. Because I took all he was."
Template felt a bit queasy at that, but had to admit
the girl had just cause. She was also one of the spookiest
people she had ever met, not even excluding "Vlad." With her
quiet demeanor, morbid tone, pale complexion and sad face
she looked like a creature of the night. Still, how much of
that came from what she was and how much from recent events
in her life? Template was definitely willing to give the
girl a break.
"Well, Eve is already supporting your attending to the
Academy. I think I will, too. That doesn't mean you won't
have troubles. If nothing else, classes are all during the
"Sunlight is a minor annoyance to me," said Beverly,
casually waving that away. "And there are protections I can
use to ease even that."
"What, uhm, special needs do you...?"
"Blood, of course," she replied. "Animal would do,
though it should be mammal. But not human."
Template nodded as she made notes.
"My room should either be windowless or have extremely
good shades." The girl considered her interviewer for a
moment. "You're taking all of this very routinely."
"We already have three other magical creatures as
students, one of them a centaur," said Template, with a wry
laugh. "We also have a non-magical super who does a pretty
good impression of a werewolf. There's a good chance you'll
fit right in."
"That should definitely help," said Elizabeth.
"I... hadn't realized," said the vampire girl,
startled. "I knew, I guess, that magical creatures were
already there, but..."
"Any other requirements?"
"No. I can eat normal food, but I need at least two
liters of fresh, whole blood a day to stay healthy. More if
I have to heal myself or exert myself."
"We have a substantial biology lab, with some brilliant
people supervising the students, some of whom are also
brilliant. We'll work something out. Though don't be
surprised if they want you to test experimental concoctions.
Not to mention test you. Don't be afraid to come to me or
one of the other supervisory staff members if they won't
take no for an answer."
Elizabeth nodded at this, obviously reassured by
Template's words. Then she smiled, just a bit.
"That shouldn't be a problem. My father was the only
one who ever refused to accept my decline of an offer."
Template shivered, just a bit.
Part Two: Wonders and Exploitations
"I'm glad you checked in," said Eve, after Template
decided to deliver her report on the vampire girl in person.
"We've got the farrier arranged for Cheiron, so you don't
have to ask Chestnut about arranging one."
One reason for the personal report was that Eve was
having a pre-semester meeting with some of the staff that
afternoon. That gave Template the opportunity to tell her
news to several of them at once.
"That's good," said Template, nodding, and almost
yawning. "Even though he only wears those rubber pullovers,
and those only when he's going on hard surfaces, he still
needs help with tending his hooves and no-one here -
including him and Chestnut - is an expert on hooves. In the
herd they do that for each other, but here..."
"So many with special needs," said Andrea, sighing.
"I have to admit," said Template, "when I started all
this I had no idea this sort of thing would be so common."
"Many supers have special needs," said Weather Warper,
quietly, as if speaking from experience. "Most either handle
those themselves or get help from teammates."
"Anyway, I'm not staying long. I promised the Intrepids
I'd pull monitor duty tonight, since most of them are on a
"You lend new meaning to the word commuter," said
Weather Warper, smiling and shaking his head.
* * *
"How was your shift?" said Solange, giving Template a
sisterly kiss when she walked, yawning, into the Intrepids'
break room the following morning.
"Quiet. So quiet I actually had trouble staying awake.
Fortunately, Bunter helped keep me occupied."
"If you don't have to leave immediately after
breakfast, stop by my workshop," said Bowman.
"Oh, no, he wants to show you his new toy," said
"It's a valuable collector's item," said the archer,
"Okay, now I'm intrigued. I'll be there as soon as I've
Forty-five minutes later she was in the gadgeteer's
favorite place. Smiling, enjoying the mystery he was
presenting her, he opened a fireproof safe and pulled out a
lacquered wooden box. He opened the lid to reveal... a box
of playing cards, lying in a velvet-lined cavity.
"Uh..." said Template.
"It's one of MechMaster's original killer card decks."
"One of whose whats?"
"Forties villain," said Bowman, excitedly. "He did
revolutionary work in microtechnology, before the term had
even been invented. Created devices with micromechanical
components. We still don't know how he did some of the
things he did."
He moved to an empty counter space - a rare commodity
in a gadgeteer's workshop - and set the box down. Carefully,
reverently, he removed the deck, opened its box and gently
slid the cards into his gloved palm. He thumbed one out and
held it to Template.
"It's a bit thicker than a standard card," she said,
frowning. Her own gloves were actually integral with her
costume, but thin enough for her to notice the odd features
of the card. "I feel ridges and grooves, too."
"Like this, it's harmless. But sort them in the right
order and activate..."
He proceeded to carefully organize the deck. Then he
put it back in the pack, which he gently rapped against the
counter on all six sides. He removed the deck again and held
"Exactly. The cards have locked together, mechanically
and precisely indexed by those ridges and grooves and some
pins and holes which aren't as obvious, just waiting for the
He set the deck down on the counter and gave the top
two carefully timed taps.
There was an odd, rasping sound, like a mechanical
sequencer cycling. Then, with a strange, irregular thumping
and whirring, the deck of cards rose eerily on six spindly
legs. It wavered for a moment; then with another sound,
similar to the first, a pair of blades sprung out. It paused
again, with yet more cycling sounds. Then it began walking,
the movement and mechanical sounds coordinating in a creepy,
syncopated, limping dance.
"The blades were originally coated with poison; the
exact blend subject to MechMaster's desires and whims. These
have been cleaned, and against anyone even wearing a pair of
sturdy gloves would be harmless, anyway."
He reached out and tapped the top of the deck again,
jerking his hand back. The tiny, monstrous construct whipped
around several times, blades high. Then folded itself back
into a deck of separate cards.
"It's not in perfect shape. You should feel honored; no
telling how many more times it would be able to do that
without at least some cleaning and restoration. And, trust
me, that's not something I'm looking forward to."
"That was incredible," breathed Template, staring at
the apparently harmless deck of cards sitting there.
"Micromechanics. Each card actually has several layers,
with tiny moving parts inside. And each card is more
intricate than any music box ever built. The man was evil,
but he was definitely an artist."
* * *
Template was still thinking about that innocent-looking
mechanical assassin two days later, when she flew back to
the Intrepids' base to join up with the Black Mask. Their
mission was to recruit - forcibly if necessary - the last of
their new students.
"Do you know where we're going?" she said, after the
greetings were over and she and the Black Mask started for
"Yes, Eve thoroughly briefed me," said the Black Mask,
"I'm glad of that. From what Eve told me, our target
isn't going to be much of a problem, but her surroundings
"Have you ever been to a super fair?"
"I've been to several real science-fiction and fantasy
conventions, but not any of those," said Template. "I hear
they're more like an auto show or technology show. Only with
a generous extra helping of sleaze."
"There is definitely that," said the Black Mask. "This
particular one, Sexy Supers, brags that all of its
participants have at least one, demonstrable superhuman
ability, no matter how minor, and that none of the
participants themselves are minors."
"My mother could qualify," muttered Template. "On both
"Precisely. Roughly three-quarters of the guests - or
perhaps 'exhibits' is a better word - are nubile young women
with perhaps ten percent being handsome young men. They are
either trying to earn a living off their meager abilities or
similarly supplement their income. Some do operate as masks
- seeking bounties, hiring themselves out as detectives,
bodyguards and such - and some work as celebrities of
various stripes. Some are paid escorts, bit actors, even
nightclub entertainers. Since only a few have ever actually
fought crime - or committed crimes - in costume they lack
credit as super celebrities and must emphasize their sexual
aspect to attract fans. Especially fans who are willing to
pay for admission and autographs."
"Eve tells me that a few retired or disabled legitimate
masks - even some villains - use these shows to earn extra
"True. They generally avoid events such as this one,
"Well, we need a way to confront her away from other
people, if we can."
"Ah. I might have a solution to that problem." He
smiled. "I do tend to be rather intimidating. I'll attempt
to cause her to flee, and if she does you follow her until
you are in a circumstance where her apprehension will not
* * *
"That's Radio Star!"
"The third unrelated super to have that name," said the
Black Mask. "This one was active in the mid-Fifties,
actually overlapping the second. That's not her original
costume, but a near Trademark-infringing replica of the
original Radio Star's. Who is much better known to the
public and far more respected among supers than either of
the two who came after her."
As usual, Template was impressed and a bit intimidated
by his knowledge of supers and their history. She was
definitely intimidated - though not impressed - by their
"Good Lord," said Template, quietly. "That one must
have super powers. It's the only way she could stay
"Eve of Corruption," said the Black Mask. "Low-level
super with moderate physical enhancements and some
volitional shapeshifting. Occasionally works as an actress,
usually in non-porn titillation films. Her costume is quite
elastic. There's a rumor she's actually a male, but those
are wrong. People are confusing her with Corruption's Eve, a
minor Sixties super villain who later became a character
actor of some talent, specializing in playing alien
He turned his head a bit and gave her a lopsided smile.
"Or was it female aliens?"
"At least our costumes aren't attracting much notice,
Which was part of the reason Template felt vaguely
queasy. Most of the people wandering around the noisy,
brightly-lit exhibit hall were overweight males, of ages
ranging from early teen to late middle. One of the most
unsettling aspects of their behavior was that they would
look at her with a flicker of anticipation, then turn away,
dismissing her from their awareness. As a heterosexual male
Randy had definitely been guilty of objectifying women. Even
Template often found herself thinking of some attractive
woman she didn't know as the sum of her parts, rather than a
person. Both Template and The Revolutionary had been
subjected to such attention, especially Template the three
times she had worn her costume at F/SF conventions. This,
though... It was if, because she wasn't showing enough skin,
she didn't exist. Template was a bit embarrassed to learn
that she didn't like being ignored.
They finally reached their target's booth. A young
woman in a costume which might have been designed by Solange
(had she lost all sense of taste) sat with fake smile firmly
in place, surrounded by photos and artwork of her in even
tackier, more revealing outfits. She was blond, curvaceous
and rather strikingly tall, something made obvious by her
eagerness to stand with someone to have a photo made in
front of a stylized space backdrop and exaggerated by the
extreme spike heels on her costume's knee-high boots.
"Allessandra?" said the Black Mask.
"Yes?" said the blond woman, in a practiced, perky
"The original Allessandra would have been well past a
hundred by now. If she hadn't been killed by that Communist
super in Korea. Your real name is Alexis Sanderson. You are
the great-granddaughter - and double namesake - of the
original Allessandra. And you are underage."
The pasted-on sexy smile melted away, replaced by stark
fear. She suddenly leapt into the air, knocking her chair
back, and the display wall behind her almost over. She
lifted to just below the ceiling and flew away in a costume
not really meant for such activity. The Black Mask turned
and nodded to Template, who took off after her.
Allessandra didn't seem to realize there was anyone
flying behind her; didn't even look back. She appeared to be
in a blind panic. She flew an erratic course through the
exhibit hall until she spotted an open loading dock door,
and shot straight towards it. Men unloading from trucks dove
out of the way. An action seen to be justified when
Allessandra bumped hard into a U-Haul trailer as she
squeezed past it outside the door, rocking the vehicle.
Template followed - though more gracefully - and waited
until they were well above the buildings before moving to
block the younger woman. She was helped by the fact that the
other was desperately tugging the top of her costume back
into place. Template gritted her teeth and put her mind
firmly on business.
"That's enough," she said, firmly, arms wide to
emphasize the situation.
Allessandra started, looked panicked... hauled back to
a stop in the air and started to cry.
"Please don't arrest me! I need the money for college!"
"That's odd, since you ditched high school your
The girl started again, and now looked even more
fearful. The tears were real, but how much else of her
"I'm not here to arrest you," said Template, lowering
her arms, "I'm here to relay an agreement your public
defender reached with the federal judge for your case. Come
out to the Pine Island Academy, stay on the island and in
the school and earn passing grades until you turn eighteen,
and your records will be sealed. You can start over once
you're an adult."
Her eyes flicked around, looking for escape.
"Don't. I'm faster and stronger than you, not to
mention much better trained. The alternative, if you refuse,
or do manage to escape, is that several additional charges
will be added, and you'll be tried and sentenced as an
"But... I can't afford that school! I can barely afford
to live, now!"
"Your fees will be paid by the feds, through a program
intended to rehabilitate underage supers who have gotten in
trouble with the law."
She backed away a bit, not trying to run just yet, but
looking like she was preparing to.
"You don't have to make your final decision now. Come
out to the school and try it for a month. If you decide
you'd rather go to jail..."
"But... I paid money for my table..."
"You mean you promised to pay money from what you earn
here today and tomorrow," said Template. She shook her head.
"Then you were planning to run out on your debt. Like you
have six times before. You've pretty much been blackballed
from other conventions. The organizer of this one decided to
give you one more chance, since you're a good draw. And you
were planning to let him down, too, weren't you?"
"I draw at least two hundred extra customers! I should
get my table free, like that bitch Freeza!"
"This isn't about her. I want your answer. Do you go to
a tropical island and try to fix your life, or do you go to
jail? Either way, it starts now."
Template watched her hover - irregularly; she obviously
wasn't a practiced flyer - as she thought. And finally she
"I'll go to your damned island," was her surly
"Good. Then you won't mind wearing this."
Template held up what looked like a choker. Then, while
Allessandra stared in confusion, suddenly lunged forward and
snapped it around her neck.
"What the fuck!?" Allessandra screamed, backing away
and yanking at the collar.
"It's a tracking device. And far too sturdy for you to
"You fuckin' bitch!" the girl screamed, lunging for
Template evaded her easily, then grabbed her in an
over-under double half-Nelson.
"Temper, temper," she said, mildly. "Not to mention language. This is exactly the sort of behavior which got you thrown out of the Young Rebels."
With Allessandra screaming profanities and struggling
the whole way, Template flew her down to where the Black
Mask had the containment vehicle waiting, in an empty area
of the convention center's parking lot. Her task was not
made any easier by the fact that Allessandra's struggles had
caused her top to fall down again.
"You sure this will hold her?" said Template, actually
straining a bit. "She's stronger than I was expecting."
"There's a nullifier inside," said the Black Mask,
manfully restraining from staring at the underage girl's
heaving, bare bosom.
Template shoved her in and slammed the door.
"Tell me you got her agreement on tape," said Template,
slumping against the back of the truck and fanning herself.
"Digital WORM, actually," said the Black Mask, holding
up a device plugged into his comset. "Certified evidence
recorder, from the local District Attorney's office. And I
think we should both pray that no-one got her capture on
video, or took photos."
* * *
Template was again carrying Tiger on a flight to
evaluate a new student. This time, though, she was actually
looking forward to the trip. From what she could determine
from his demeanor, so was Tiger.
"I thought you or the Black Mask had already told her
about the school," said Tiger, a bit embarrassed. "I
happened to mention our trip to the Dark Prison and she
suddenly perked up and wanted details."
"Which way, now?"
"Just follow the river until you see the floating
castle. You can't miss it."
"A floating castle," said Template, not sure if he were
having a joke at her expense.
"Just look for it. No, not in the water. Up on the side
of the river valley, to the left."
Moments later they rounded a bend in the river and,
sure enough, there was a castle. Most of the way up the left
side of the valley wall, on a sort of large shelf of land.
It was distinctly floating, as well, if only a meter and a
half above the ground.
"It's a floating castle," said Template, blankly.
"And you thought that was a euphemism," said Tiger,
smiling like a cat with a canary feather in the corner of
its mouth. "Among other things, they grow mushrooms
The strange structure was on the uphill edge of an
upscale subdivision. Combined with the general style of the
homes below it and the theme of the landscaping in the area,
the floating castle gave the impression that this particular
subdivision might have been designed by Walt Disney. There
were several structures besides the castle on the grounds
around it, most not quite as fanciful but a couple moreso.
Trees, old and huge, dotted the land. There was also a
miniature railroad winding its way around the property, and
a tiny amusement park. Considering the average height of the
inhabitants, those were just about to the right scale.
Runner actually met them in the air, levitating up to
give them both a hug at once.
"Welcome to our humble abode!" she said, with an impish
- and very toothy - smile. "L'il Glomahr has been waiting
anxiously for your arrival. The rest of us have just been
"Their daughter's name," said Tiger. "She's their third
child, and their first in over six hundred years."
"We figured it was about time for another one."
As they approached the ground another figure rose to
meet them. This one was even smaller and more childish-appearing. Only this one actually was a child.
"Did someone mention my name?" said the non-furry
little child elf.
Though far less feral than her mother, her grin
revealed fangs which would have given Vlad pause.
"Template, this is my daughter, Glomahr," said Runner,
proudly, as they settled to the flagstone walkway running
through the immaculate side lawn. "Glomahr, this is
Template, a friend of the Black Mask's."
"I knew that much already," said the girl, smiling
"Ah... just how old are you?"
"Thirteen, in three days."
"Ah. Only about a year younger than... Uh, Energia."
Tiger, who knew Template was also Randy, and Energia's
uncle, just grinned.
"Come inside. We're having tea and cookies in a bit.
And I mean real, US-type cookies."
They chatted, Template following the flow while Runner
introduced her to Stave, her husband. The two adult
Bluegrass Elves then escorted their guests into their "den."
This was actually an enormous Medieval hall, which served as
both dining room and lounging area, the second section
comfortably close to the massive fireplace at one end. There
was a huge blaze in progress, producing a comfortable warmth
in that portion of the hall and filling it with a pleasant
"I don't see Steamboat anywhere around," said Tiger, as
they moved to seat themselves.
"And you won't," said Runner, angrily. "Not for a good,
long while. He sold some of my collectibles to clear out a
room he wanted to use. Said he assumed I'd rather have the
"Please tell me one of those wasn't a MechMaster Killer
Card Deck," said Template, with a sudden sense of the
"How did you know?!"
Template sighed, and related what Bowman had shown her
a few days previous.
"I suppose he's a good keeper for the thing," said
Runner, doing some sighing herself. "But I will check to
make sure that's the same item. Next time I'm in their
One couch was human sized, one elf-sized, and to one
side there was an odd pad which was obviously part of the
furnishings but the purpose of which was not evident. Until
Template remembered the similar pad in Cheiron's room.
Glomahr had somehow disappeared without Template noticing
while they were talking. As they settled themselves she
suddenly reappeared, wheeling a tea cart through a door at
the far end of the room. She seemed inordinately proud of
carrying out the duties of positioning the cart and
presenting the dishes and cookies and pouring the freshly-brewed green tea.
"I don't mean to sound crass, but if she's doing this
to impress me into letting her into the school, she needn't
bother," said Template, smiling at the little elf girl.
"Actually, she just enjoys this sort of thing," said
Stave, who had a surprisingly deep voice for someone whose
head barely came to Template's navel. "A born hostess."
Template nodded, and began questioning Glomahr and her
parents. She had attended a human grade school and middle
school, and also received extensive home schooling.
"We kept having meetings with history teachers," said
Stave, rolling his eyes, "explaining that the books were
wrong. And that we knew this because we or someone we know
"That... must be handy," said Template, a little
disconcerted at having their ages driven home. They seemed
so... informal. "I take it you two travel more than most
"We used to," said Runner. "But the time we went to
visit Tsar Alexander and Tsarina Elisabeth for the holidays
and Napoleon invaded soured us on playing tourist for a
while. We've only been getting back into that lifestyle
since L'il Glomahr is getting old enough. We figure travel
is an important part of her education."
"Well, we'll be glad to have her at our school, for
that part of her education," said Template, feeling a bit
dazed. She had an inspiration. "In fact, we'd also love to
have you two as guest speakers. Care for a paid vacation on
an island paradise?"
"That," said Runner, smiling, gaze distant, "sounds
"With that settled, would you like a tour of the
property?" said Stave, putting down his cup and plate.
"I hate to cut this visit short, but I should try and
see Chestnut while I'm in the area," said Template,
realizing with a start that she'd been there for over an
"She's not in the area," said Runner, sipping the last
of her somehow still warm green tea. "She's in Louisville
this weekend. Some sort of charity event."
"Ah. Well, there's time for the tour you mentioned,
then." Template and Tiger rose as their hosts did. However,
Template then hesitated, looking at the pad. "This may sound
strange, but... do you regularly have centaurs for guests?"
"Just the one," said Stave. "Marian lives less than a
block from here."
"She's from my world," said Tiger. "Part of the exodus,
to prevent the Gifted from flooding our world with too much
magic too quickly. Poni lives here, too."
"They just fit right in," said Runner, with another of
her Trademark toothy grins.
The castle actually was smaller than Template expected.
That is, it had fewer rooms, because they tended to be huge.
There was also a large courtyard in the center. She noticed
that they didn't show her the basement or the uppermost
rooms - which were their bedrooms and a huge attic - but did
mention the latter in passing while ascending to the roof.
Template definitely enjoyed the view from the parapets.
The train and other rides were functional, but not
really practical for a full-sized adult human. The flower
beds were gorgeous... though Template couldn't help feeling
there were odd little creatures flitting around the blooms
just outside her vision.
Finally - and with surprising reluctance - Template and
Tiger said their farewells and departed.
* * *
"Boy, are my arms tired," groaned Randy, as he entered
the large apartment he and Karen were now sharing.
"They're going to be tireder," said Karen, looking
distressed. "While Chestnut was at some charity event in
Louisville she was attacked by another equine-themed woman.
Girl calling herself Mustang Sally. They had a big fight,
right in front of a bunch of TV news crews. She's not hurt -
or at least not badly - but is pretty upset."
"Well, we better go check on her," said Randy, with
just a hint of reluctance. "Do you know where she is?"
"They're keeping her in the hospital overnight for
* * *
It was always odd, seeing a super out of costume, even
the ones who didn't wear masks. Seeing someone as vivacious
as Chestnut in a hospital gown and bed and looking morose
was downright disconcerting.
"Are you all right?" said Template, as she and Colossa
"I'm fine, physically," said Chestnut. "If I wasn't I'd
just change back for a while to regenerate. But we sure tore
up that auditorium. I hear some bystanders got hurt by
flyin' debris, though none seriously. I just don't
understand why that gal wanted t' fight me. And then
wouldn't give up when it was clear I was whuppin' her good!"
"Stubborn pride," said Colossa. "I once fought a low-level brick who was convinced no 'little girl' could beat
him, no matter how big she was."
"Are you coming back to the school next semester?" said
Template. "Because there's no doubt Mustang Sally was the
instigator. There's no blame on you."
"Hell, yeah!" said Chestnut, with the first genuine
smile they'd seen. "You couldn't keep me away!"
They stayed, talking about this and that, until
visiting hours ended and the senior floor nurse chased
Colossa and Template out.
"I can't believe you're adding a vampire and an elf,"
said Colossa, as Template flew the two of them back to the
Intrepids' base to update the team on the events regarding
Chestnut. "And that I didn't know about them until I heard
you telling Chestnut!"
"I told you about Beverly," said Template, a bit
"Just that she was the daughter of a murderous crime
lord with supernatural connections, and was in jail for
killing him. Nothing about her being a vampire."
"I'm sure I told you."
The were still arguing as they entered the base.
Part Three: Commencement
"Almost ready," said Andrea, sighing in tired
satisfaction as she ended the staff meeting. "Some students
have yet to arrive, but all prospects have been contacted,
the dorms and most of the other facilities are ready..."
"Don't jinx it," said Junker, warily.
* * *
Well out into interstellar space, more than a full
light year from Sol, a small huRK scientific fleet came
across an anomaly. A manufactured one.
"It appears to be a Sholvak fast courier, Fleet
Leader," said the sensor operator. "Currently empty and in
standby mode, but with definite signs of recent activity and
occupation. An oddity is that the canopy is open. Not
damaged... merely left open. As if the occupant had departed
with the intent of returning shortly."
The Fleet Leader stroked its neck spines absently as it
thought this through.
"Scan the volume around us for appropriate-sized living
or once-living things."
"Done, Fleet Leader. None within short range."
"Extend your range towards the nearest star. Also scan
for metapower application."
"Brilliant, Fleet Leader!" said the medium caste
officer, only a moment later. "One metapowered Sholvak,
Primus class, heading towards the nearest system on its own
"Identify specific Primus."
There was a long silence.
"Fleet Leader... the entity is Queen Tolnar."
That definitely caused a stir!
"Archivist! What is the significance of this system?"
"Only one developed planet plus a large satellite with
a colony and some outposts... a few other outposts on other
bodies or independent... unallied, classic early technical
world," the scholar recited as it tapped the ship's
database. "Single intelligent species, multiple governmental
agencies and cultures, defensive capabilities..."
"Well?" said the Fleet Leader as the other trailed off
"Fleet Leader... this world has driven off the
MenDekLed Hoard three times... the Great Devourer four
times... five different Harvester swarms have failed against
it, two of them being so damaged the remnants were absorbed
by other swarms... There are multiple, other similar
That caused an even bigger - and more uneasy - stir.
"Are you telling me," said the huge huRK, slowly and
carefully, "that she is deliberately approaching a world
which could challenge her and one of her primary fleets,
without so much as a single escort?"
"Fleet Leader... I accurately relay the information the
archives have for this world."
"Fascinating," said the huRK. "I want monitoring
stations placed around this system. We will go about our
business, but we will also keep notes on hers."
* * *
She stood motionless in the air, regal, stern and
perfect. She had dark blond hair and deeply bronzed skin,
and was sculpted like a world-class athlete at the peak of
her training. Template had seen a few people who could carry
off a long, swirling cape with dignity; this woman made them
"That's Queen Tolnar!" said Andrea, sounding
frightened, as she joined the group looking up into the sky.
"Good Lord! We can't fight her! The entire membership of The
Planet Defenders would have trouble driving her off!"
"Maybe she doesn't want to fight," said Template,
tentatively. "I mean, except for those first two times, when
she was young and eager to make a name for herself in the
universe, all her visits have been peaceful. Or at least
started that way..."
"If you think that, you go talk to her," said Cyclone
Template swallowed nervously, but nodded, and took off.
"Good morning," she said, hovering a few meters away
from the humanoid alien. Mercifully, her voice was steady.
"I am Template, one of the administrators of this facility.
What is your purpose here?"
"At least one of you has some courage," said Tolnar, in
a surprisingly mild tone. "I wish to enroll my son, Maldren,
in this institution."
"Ah," said Template, somehow not surprised. "Well, if
you will come this way I'll introduce you to our
* * *
"How the Hell did she know?" said Andrea, weakly, at
the staff meeting Eve called after speaking privately with
Queen Tolnar for more than three hours.
"Language," said Eve, mildly. "How she learned of our
school is not really important. You can ask her yourself if
you want, the next time she's here."
"I'll pass," said Andrea, quickly.
"What I want to know is, most aliens look very much
non-human, but she could almost pass as one of us," said
Template. "Is that just some sort of cosmic coincidence?"
"You don't know?" said Andrea, startled. "Her people
are human. About a hundred thousand years ago the Sh'pokt
collected samples of life from Earth to create an example
ecosystem back on their homeworld. They didn't know humans
were sentient until a bunch of them escaped and almost stole
a ship. The Sh'pokt were then forced to adopt and educate
them and their descendants. They eventually took over that
culture, and several others. One reason they pay so much
attention to adding Earth to their empire is that they know
it's their planet of origin, and mostly leave it alone out
of reverence and respect for their mother world."
The alien woman had left as uneventfully as she had
arrived, once she and Eve had hammered out all the pertinent
details. While many of those details - such as method of
payment - were still confidential, the communications center
had reported several instances of heavy traffic between
Eve's office and governments around the world during the
talks. Most of the communication time had been with the UN.
"The primary short-term impact is that having her son
here greatly increases our security needs," said Eve. "I had
to assure her that we were capable of seeing to his safety.
Which means a great deal of preparatory work by us before he
arrives here, in three days."
"Ohhh, yeah," said Junker, nodding. "We'll have to
coordinate more closely with the Lunies than ever. And the
Planet Defenders and some other space-capable super teams.
And beef up both our sensors and our weapons. Tie into the
Deep Space Early Warning Array. That woman has some
formidable enemies, and many of them would be quite capable
of slipping through our current net without leaving so much
as a ripple."
"As for why she is taking this action, I believe she
wishes to have him away from court intrigues for a while.
Something I well understand. And this may be the only world
not aligned with one of the stellar empires which is strong
enough to resist same. She may also simply wish him to learn
"Just how powerful is this boy?" said Template. "I'm
concerned about discipline problems."
"Rightly so," said the Black Mask, participating
through a conference call. "His abilities would have to be
measured to determine them precisely, but guessing from what
I know of Tolnar's early abilities, he would be at roughly
Template's level, though with a few powers she doesn't have.
For example, energy projection and FTL flight. However, he's
approaching the period of his life in which members of his
species goes through a quick and very substantial increase
in power. They're born super, then experience a sort of
power puberty in their teen years."
"I wonder if she simply wants him some place where if
he breaks something it won't matter," said Andrea.
"Great," said Cyclone Ranger, looking tired. "And all
this is assuming the UN even lets the boy on the planet."
"The treaty with the Sholvak includes a cultural
exchange provision," said Eve. "Her Majesty intends to use
the educational clause in that."
"Should work," said the Black Mask, his transmitted
image nodding thoughtfully. "However, they'll almost
certainly want to put some of their own people on the
island, to help protect the boy and the school."
"That's quite acceptable, as long as they don't expect
us to quarter them at the school itself," said Eve. "I'll
speak with Commissioner Wright this afternoon. Most likely,
we will wind up having some T.O.W.E.R. Agents staying in
either Pine's base or one of the closed super team bases.
Now, is there any other new business? Good. Remember, school
starts in four days. We will be ready."
* * *
"Our contact at the UN is rather upset by Queen
Tolnar's visit," said Andrea, at the staff meeting the next
day. "He's fussing at us because she didn't go through
"I assume you told him to take his complaints to her,"
said Eve, dryly.
"Well, more politely than that but, yes."
"So what's the word?" asked Template.
"The only way the UN will allow Maldren to be a student
is if Zeep promises to help protect - and keep an eye on -
him. He has agreed to do so, though only against external -
that is, extraterrestrial - threats."
"So we're back to declaring independence," said
Template, sighing, "since the US won't let Zeep on its soil,
or that of its possessions.
"However, they will allow the boy to attend on a
provisional basis," said Eve. "One semester, as a trial. If
that works, and if we have Zeep on board by then, he's good
for however long his mother wants him to stay. Also, keep in
mind that Zeep doesn't need to physically be here - whatever
that means to something like him - to protect us."
"I have to admit, I'm looking forward to meeting Zeep,"
said Template. "I keep hearing all these wild things about
him, but have never actually seen him in person. And there's
so little documentation of his activities."
"He prefers a low profile," said Eve. "Given his
abilities, he usually gets it."
* * *
Maldren arrived, on schedule, two days after that. Only
the staff and a few key students knew who he really was; the
rest were informed he was a near-human extraterrestrial
there as part of an educational and trade program with an
Earth ally. Something unusual but not completely
The young man - about 14 in Earth years, bronze-skinned
like his mother but dark-haired - had flown to the island
under his own power the day before, after a stop at the UN
offices in New York to go through the necessary paperwork.
His mother had accompanied him to the UN to make sure all
the Is were dotted and all the Ts were crossed, but then
stayed behind to attend to some details. At Queen Tolnar's
request there had been no publicity of the event and so far
the press hadn't gotten wind of it. Though there had been
some speculation as to why six of the Navy's fastest
fighters - famed Brown Racers - had flown in tight formation
from just off the US coast to Bermuda.
Fortunately for the subterfuge, Maldren wasn't
requiring he be addressed by title, explaining that was not
necessary for those not under his mother's rule. Since his
given name was easy for most humans to pronounce, and not
generally associated with Queen Tolnar, that was how he was
registered with the school and introduced to the other
So far his opinions of the school, its staff and
students had been expressed as polite mild approval. He was
cooperating with the regulations and staff instructions,
though often asking for clarification, or providing reasons
for wanting to do something different.
"Definitely not a spoiled brat," said Andrea, with
relief, at the evaluation meeting after the first day of the
"Neither was Tolnar, actually," said Captain Hazard, of
the Planet Defenders. "Even when she was beating the tar out
of us, in Fifty-Eight, she was, well, mannerly about it. And
honorable, not striking a downed opponent, allowing time-outs for the treatment of injuries, evacuation of the
seriously wounded, and so forth. Almost chivalrous. And we
were always careful to treat her the same way. From what
I've seen of her son, she's trained him in the same code."
"If we do have trouble with the boy," said Eve,
nodding, "that is the way to approach him."
* * *
"You missed your first flying class," said Template.
Allessandra hadn't caused nearly as much trouble while
staying on the island before school started as Template had
expected. However, on this, the second day of classes, she
had already skipped an important one. Now she and the course
instructor - Eagle - were in Template's office to find out
"I don't fly that much."
"Flight is a rare and precious ability," said Template,
passionately. "You should develop it to your limit."
"I just don't plan to ever need it that much," said the
younger woman, flippantly.
"Allessandra... it's a required course for those who
can fly," said Template, completely unable to understand her
attitude. "You attend the class or you fail. Period."
The girl fidgeted for several seconds. Then abruptly
leaned forward, arms jutting wide.
"I get airsick, okay!" screamed Allessandra, suddenly and honestly angry, as well as a bit frightened. "Anything fancy and I toss my fuckin' cookies!"
"That's actually not an uncommon problem," said Eagle,
glancing over at Template. "The human vestibular system just
isn't meant for flying. It's a learned skill."
"Then she will learn it," said Template, flatly.
"You've had your powers for years. The fact that you still
have a problem with flying tells me you just haven't flown
"I didn't used to have a problem," said the teenager,
sourly, as she slumped in her chair, arms folded under her
ample bosom. "It just... started, a couple years ago."
Template and Eagle exchanged glances. Allessandra was
big for her age - in more ways than one - and sometimes they
had trouble remembering she was actually only sixteen. The
revised costume they'd had made for her helped a bit with
this, as did the fact that she often wore civies, even to
"Allessandra... how long has it been since your last
"Well, uh, never, actually. I mean, I've never had
anything except the checkups they require for school."
"Well, you're going to have one now," said Template,
reaching for her phone. "You might have an actual, physical
problem which is causing this vertigo, or whatever it is. It
could be something as simple as wax in your ears. I'm
calling Dr. Nief and scheduling an appointment for you as
soon as she can see you."
"I, uh..." said Allessandra.
"Trust me," said Eagle, in a reassuring tone, as
Template dialed, "it's better to know for sure if there's a
problem. And if there is, what can be done about it. And if
there isn't, you..."
"Will have to practice flying a lot more," said
Allessandra, with a sigh.
* * *
Rubber Made was pitching for the Extraordinaries in the
final inning. She was getting tired. Too much showing off
with her Patented Long-Reach Elastic-Snapped Fastball
"Just one more out," she muttered to herself as she
It was one of her best curves ever. Unfortunately, she
was up against Squirrel Girl, batting for the Eccentrics,
whose enhancements allowed her to track the pitch just fine.
She popped the ball up high, heading for left field. Rubber
Made reached for it but wasn't quick enough. The only player
on the field who still had a chance to catch it was Richard
Flemming, Ettienne's roommate and the only normal on the
team. Of course, there's normal, and there's normal...
Richard, running hard, saw the ball wouldn't drop low
enough until well after it passed him. He took off his glove
and tossed it into the ball's path. Horsehide smacked
solidly into cowhide. Richard managed not only to get under
the falling combination, and not only to catch them, but to
catch them by shoving his hand into the glove and grabbing
the ball with it before the stitched sphere could fall free.
He stopped and triumphantly help up the glove, ball plainly
seen. The umpire signaled a fair catch.
"Aw, man..." said Squirrel Girl, who was almost to
"Hey, if they allow me to stretch to catch and tag,
they can allow that," said Rubber Made, grinning. She
stretched her arms out and gave her friend a consoling hug.
"Better luck next time."
"Whoops! Watch the hands. You know I'm ticklish."
Game over, players and watching crowd slowly dispersed.
"Not a bad game," said Template, as she walked Energia
and Maldren back to the dorms. "I thought we'd have
problems, allowing powers, but it's better this way, to have
them out in the open. And not nearly as lop-sided as I
expected, given the varying power levels and types. It's a
good way to encourage people to figure out how to apply
their powers in unusual ways."
Moondance walked by, greasy with sunscreen, wearing a
wide-brimmed hat and welder's goggles. With her was a small
girl with big eyes and huge, pointed ears, as well as long,
pointed canines which flashed in the setting sunlight as she
"Ooookay,' said Energia, trying not to stare and
failing. "This place just keeps getting more interesting.'
Template laughed, then explained.
"A vampire and an elf," said Energia, mildly boggled.
"A Bluegrass Elf," Template corrected. "They're smaller
and more feral than their European cousins."
"Vampire," said Maldren, tipping his head slightly to
one side. "An undead drinker of blood."
"That's only one definition," said Template. "More
generally, a mammal which needs to consume blood. Moondance
is quite alive, actually. Just has some odd dietary
requirements and sun sensitivity."
Aside from being a bit formal and standoffish he seemed
to be a fine young man. Template just hoped there wouldn't
be problems from students whose parents had fought Tolnar or
other Sholvak when they learned whose offspring he was. And
she knew that was "when" and not "if," given who and what
those students and parents were.
As they reached the branching of the path which led to
the boys' dormitory, Maldren stopped, turned towards them
and bowed a bit.
"Thank you for the socialization and the explanation of
He smiled, turned and walked away.
"Wow," gushed Energia. "Cute, good manners and a
"What?!" said Template, shocked. "No. Uh-uh. No way."
"You're just jealous," said Energia, impishly.
"Hon, don't do this. The political complications alone
"Oh, don't worry. I am well aware he's out of my
league." She looked down the empty path, a distant smile on
her face. "But a girl can dream, can't she?"
* * *
It was a meeting of the Zurich Octagon, the blackest of
the black, an organization so secret it had no formal name,
no formal acknowledgment, composed of managers of projects
and programs so secret that even the President had only a
vague knowledge they actually existed.
The men and women seated themselves in the sealed room
without ceremony, opening folders, turning on laptops and
otherwise preparing for the start of business. Harrison, the
current Black Chief, rose, and all the murmured conversation
of the participants stopped.
"The US Congress has agreed to consider the matter of
secession for Pine Island."
"We can't let them secede!" said Grimes
"It's already as good as done," said Sawyer. "All House
and Senate members have been covertly briefed on the Tolnar
situation and had the benefits of allowing the boy to attend
the school clearly pointed out."
"Well, undo it! You're the one who is always bragging
about his influence!"
"Do you have any idea of the consequences if..."
"Do you have any idea of the consequences if they find
Grimes just glared at him.
"All of us here are in the need to know," said
Harrison. "Explain it for the benefit of those who don't
"Project Standby was created in the late Seventies
after the last major Sholvak attack. It is a secret command
center which ties into both the Pine facility and the super
bases there, as well as the special communications network
which was threaded through the Sub-Teran tunnels. It was
intended to be left mothballed until needed. Among other
resources, it contains sixteen Mark IV Myrmidons."
"Since the very existence of this installation violates
several treaties and international and internal agreements,
we cannot let it be discovered," said Brockner.
"I believe we should alert Seamount Base," said
Harrison. "They may need to arrange a training exercise, as
a cover for destroying the command center and its contents.
Since the Standby base is in an isolated area of a US
possession we don't need permission, or to even warn them.
If the team is good enough they won't even be noticed."
"I have a request for them, anyway," said Belleau. "A
certain mysterious flying man has been seen in that area. I
want them to arrange an accident."
* * *
"When you invited me to a Friday night sleepover, I
knew I'd have to be a girl the whole time," said Bobby
Double, currently wearing a frilly pink nightie and having
her toenails painted. "I just didn't know we'd be doing all
this... girl stuff."
"Did you think we were inviting you to a lesbian orgy?"
said Squirrel Girl, with a smirk. "Sorry, Bobbi, but this is
how girls our age socialize. And you're the one who wanted
to know how to be a girl, in case you ever had to on the
"Or at least that's his - I mean her - story," said
Rubber Made, snickering. "I just can't believe she got Eve
to allow it."
"With that compulsion she put in my head, I can't
change to anything male while I'm here," said Bobby - or
Bobbi - with a shrug and a bit of a pout. "I just thought
this would be, well, different."
"Nubile young girls running around mostly naked, or lounging suggestively, with lots of crotch shots?" said Rose. "Sorry. That only happens in teen exploitation films. Or anime."
"No! If I want to see naked girls live I just use the
girls' showers. Or a mirror. I wanted pointers on makeup,
and cultural references, and... You know."
"Girl stuff!" said the others, in a fair chorus.
"Too bad they won't let me do the same thing with the
boys," said Rubber Made, with a sigh.
"You can't change into a biological male," said Bobbi
Double, smugly. "Just move stuff around."
"Yeah, but it looks the same."
She stood and concentrated. Her body reshaped into that
of a teenage boy. Who looked rather odd in a girl's
sleepshirt and panties.
"See? Whoops; voice too deep. That's better. See,
that's why I need the practice, too."
"That's quite a package you've given yourself," said
Rose, staring at Rubber Made's crotch.
She shifted back to normal, as the others laughed.
"So what's next on the agenda?" said Bobbi, as she
slowly kicked her feet to help her toenails dry. "More
'Let's make over the usually guy person'?"
"Speaking of 'crotch shots,'" said Rose, as she watched
Bobbi's antics. "Show some modesty, girl!"
"Popcorn and a movie," said Squirrel Girl,
triumphantly. "And, yes, it's a chick flick."
"Joy..." said Bobbi, sourly.
"And then we'll discuss the agony of the female
menstrual cycle," said Rose, mischievously.
"Eeewww..." said the others, in a fair chorus.
* * *
Randy had insisted on having this day to himself. This
was the last weekend he had free for the foreseeable future,
and he was determined to simply have some fun. To relax
after all the hectic activity of getting the school ready
for its second semester. Karen had claim on tomorrow, but
today was all his.
He was stunting around, out over the Atlantic, well
away from shipping lanes and airline routes. Just having
fun, going from skimming the water to soaring almost to LEO,
from holding stationary to look at the stars well above the
stratosphere to screaming across the wavetops supersonic.
Even after more than an hour of this he wasn't bored; far
from it. He kept varying his activity, trying new things,
keeping the flying fresh. Naturally, he was at the peak of
his self-entertainment when something interrupted.
His helmet chirped to warn of radar scans from behind,
the HUD informing him they were from two military aircraft.
Randy told the helmet to add in satellite information to
identify the source. Which, since it seemed to be closing
while he was flying high and fast, must be state-of-the-art.
The ID came back as a pair of Brown Racers. Randy whistled,
and altered course a bit to let them by. They moved smoothly
back in behind him. A bit surprised, Randy climbed. They
climbed with him. They were now less than a hundred klicks
back. Close, under these circumstances.
Randy began an increasingly aggressive series of
maneuvers. They matched him, and continued to close.
Finally, Randy hit the brakes; flipping vertical in a cobra
maneuver to use air drag with his flight power to briefly
decelerate hard. He had planned to let them fly past, but
they also slowed, then began circling him. Randy scowled,
and started focusing on losing them.
Randy didn't really take the situation seriously, at
first. He figured the pilots were simply using him as a
practice target of opportunity, so he played with them,
maneuvering in ways an airplane simply couldn't, even with
vectored thrust. Because Randy's flight was usually all
vectored thrust. After nearly causing them to collide,
though, he decided enough was enough, and started climbing
and accelerating. He was at Mach four and fifteen thousand
meters, pulling ahead, when his helmet warned him of a
missile launch. Then another, and another and another. The
HUD identified them as Harpy missiles. And they were closing
Randy dove sharply, hoping to break lock, or loose it
in the ground clutter. The missiles tracked him like he was
laying rails for them to ride on. Worried, now, he put
everything but a bit of resilience, speed and strength into
flight, and poured it on. He turned slightly, heading
northwest. Towards a place which should let him in but
defend against the missiles. Pine Island.
"Four solid locks," the General reported, to the joy of
the dignified-looking civilian with him. "It's only a matter
of time. Those are scramjet sustained missiles, and they're
much faster than his top speed. They have more than enough
range to catch him."
Randy was on the deck, going flat out, body tucked into
the most streamlined configuration he could manage.
According to his HUD, they were still closing, and he had
several klicks to go. The outside of the helmet was nearing
its temperature limit; behind him, the noses of the missiles
must be glowing bright red.
Push it, push it, push it, Randy repeated desperately
to himself. C'mon, *c'mon*!
Somehow, he managed a bit more speed. The Harpies were
still closing, but now he saw he was going to make it.
A cruise liner flashed by on the right, just a brief
glimpse of white and primary colors against the powder blue
horizon. Randy didn't dare look back, but he had a pretty
good idea of what he'd see: Five long, straight lines of
white spray kicked up by their sonic booms. He felt a bit
sorry for those on the ship. And wondered if any of the
glass on board was still intact.
There! He saw the island. He wasn't quite where he
expected to be, and adjusted course, which meant the Harpies
closed a bit more. No problem. They had to react to what he
did; he already knew what to do.
Only, the response to his approach wasn't what he
expected. That is, there was no response from the island's
defenses. He wondered if he was too low... but just now
climbing was not a survivable option. Instead, he'd have to
use the landscape of the island, itself. Fortunately, he was
approaching a part which was far from any inhabitants. Randy
just hoped there were no hikers in the area...
Just before crossing the beach Randy put about a third
of his flight into speed. He began slowing, naturally, but
between his remaining flight allocation and his momentum he
would have enough velocity for what he intended. Even with
his speed so high, this was risky. Randy saw a rocky outcrop
- what had been a coral head before Pine raised this part of
the sea floor above the water - and abruptly swerved left.
Two of the Harpies overshot; one made the turn; one impacted
the coral head.
The next several seconds were full of desperate
swerving, with some hard climbing and diving. At the end of
it Randy was still supersonic and two more of the Harpies
were gone. The one left was climbing, trying to refind Randy
after losing him in ground clutter. Randy pulled up hard,
using his body to plane the air, trading speed for altitude.
It was close, but he managed to get in behind the missile
before it spotted him. By now it should be nearly out of
Sure enough, the exhaust was dying, the Harpy slowing.
Only... Randy could see, on the ground ahead, a section of
the retirement community. Randy put more power back into
flight and closed. He grabbed the fins at the base of the
missile and swerved it left and up. He held it on that
course for several seconds, then - satisfied it had a large,
empty area of ocean to crash into - fell back. He was just
starting to congratulate himself on getting out of the mess
when the missile exploded.
Part Four: Schemes and Consequences
"You're telling me," said the man, barely able to keep
from screaming, "that two half-billion dollar air
superiority fighters with two three-million dollar missiles
each couldn't shoot down one flying man?!"
That last actually was screamed.
"Think about what you just said," the General replied,
confidently. "'One flying man.' This is someone with inhuman
powers. Someone not human. And we almost got him. We learned
from this, Senator. We'll do better next time."
"There is no next time for you!" the older man shouted.
He lunged to his feet and jabbed an accusing finger,
thrusting his whole arm at the General for emphasis. Then he
gasped, and clutched at his chest. And collapsed to the
* * *
"That should do it," said Dr. Nief, nodding. She turned
from Randy to the white-haired boy. "Thank you, Ettienne."
"Thank you," Randy echoed, as the boy smiled and nodded
Randy watched silently as the odd boy gathered his
huge, grey tomcat and left. Hoping he'd managed to be
surprised enough at the youngster's healing ability. It was
a pain, keeping track of who among these people Randy wasn't
supposed to have met, yet. It was a greater pain remembering
that even most of those he had officially met were supposed
to be acquaintances, rather than friends and coworkers, when
he was in his base form. He was doubly relieved Dr. Nief had
called the young Frenchman in, first to have his burns and
cuts healed quickly, second so he could get out of here
"I'm glad you decided to use him, instead of keeping me
here until I healed normally," Randy told Dr. Nief as
"Well, you were one of the people who founded the
school," said Dr. Nief. "You've also helped us out
personally a few times. And Template vouches for you. And
we've had no other calls for his talents today. So, why
She checked him over and nodded.
"You can leave whenever you're ready. However, Eve
wants to speak with you, first."
"Send her in," said Randy, sitting up and swinging his
legs over the edge of the exam table as the doctor finished.
He was glad they'd let him keep his shorts on. Though what
he was going to wear on the flight back home he hadn't
figured out, yet. His helmet, leather jacket and boots were
all just about shredded, and even his gloves and jeans were
"What happened?" said Eve, once they were private.
Randy gave a detailed description of his encounter with
the Brown Racers and his flight from the missiles.
"What happened to the island's anti-missile defenses?"
he finished, tone a bit outraged.
"Down an hour and a half for upgrading," said Eve,
scowling. "Naturally, during that period was the only time
we've actually needed it."
"So far," said Randy, pointedly. "So. I didn't get the
registration numbers, but their transponders should have
been picked up by satellite. We need to find out who those
guys were and get them court martialled."
"I have already contacted Ike Kenniman and some others.
They traced backwards from the missiles' detonations to when
they were launched... but no further. According to every
sensor monitoring that part of the world, the missiles
simply appeared. They were even able to track you back for
several minutes beyond that, but lost you when you went very
high. Or, rather, descended after rising very high."
"Damn!" hissed Randy, punching his thigh. "I'm starting
to realize there's more to this than two Navy fighter pilots
simply deciding to shoot down a random super. So what do we
do? How do we find whoever is responsible?"
"We do nothing, for now," said Eve. "Oh, we report the
explosions and such, but say nothing about what we know to
be the cause. Especially not that we were able to track the
missiles, or even that you were what - who - they were
after. We don't even mention you. Then, we wait."
"Guess that's the best course."
"One other thing," said Eve. "United States Senator in
bad standing - yes, he still hasn't resigned, and his party
won't force him out - Armistead Carstairs has disappeared."
"Right out of his jail cell?" said Randy, surprised.
"What, did some cohort have him teleported?"
"Nothing so extraordinary. His lawyers arranged a
change of venue to a more sympathetic judge. Who granted
bail, declaring that Carstairs was not a flight risk and
excoriating the previous judge for saying so. Carstairs was
last seen just over three hours later, as he left a press
conference in which he claimed he was being framed by supers
and would be vindicated. No-one will acknowledge seeing him
"It's possible some super - or even a former ally - did
him in, but I bet he's on a tropical island somewhere, with
a new name and a new face, chortling over how he escaped
"You know better than that," said Eve, ominously. "His
kind are never wrong in their own minds. He is in hiding,
plotting his revenge... which he will view as justice. After
his vindication he will return, triumphant, all sins
"Argh..." said Randy.
"By the way, did the Black Mask ever tell you that the
Agent Carstairs who was accosting people at that convention
you attended three years ago is the nephew of the Senator?"
"No, he didn't," said Randy, sourly. "But it doesn't
* * *
"Let's try a relay," said Myna. "Maldren, you send
power to Energia. Energia, you channel it and send it in a
different direction. Take it easy; remember, this is the
first time we're trying this."
Red beams bridged the gap between the alien boy's eyes
and the human super's outstretched palm. Energia's whole
body glowed softly as she sent the captured heat energy off
in a different direction. They held this formation for a few
seconds; then Maldren shut down his beams.
"Very good. Now, Energia, could you change the energy
into a different form?"
"I think I'd have to store it first," she said,
frowning in thought.
"Well, try the exercise again, starting by simply
channeling, then try to change it."
Both teens nodded, and resumed. Once the redirection
was successfully established Energia concentrated. The
outgoing beam flickered, and its color wavered. Then it
shifted from red to a bright blue. They held this for a few
seconds, just to make sure; then Maldren stopped his beam,
and hers faded. Energia began a victory dance in the air.
"I did it!"
"You certainly did!" said Maldren, obviously impressed.
All three were hovering just three meters above the
firing line at the practice range. For this particular
exercise they weren't expected to actually hit anything, so
the energy just shot out into space. Below them, the others
in the class were practicing exercises specific to them and
their talents. That is, when they weren't watching the
events taking place above them.
"Very good," said Myna, beaming. "Practice this on your
own time, of course, but be careful. Build up slowly until
you learn your limits."
"Why is it," said Maldren, as they drifted to the
ground behind the others, "that she can redirect and
transform energy when I can't?"
Was there a trace of anxiety in his voice?
"Manipulating energies and forces is what she does,"
said Myna. "I knew she had the potential to do this from
working with other E/FMs. Your energy projection, however,
is a product of your other powers."
"Ah," said Maldren, though he didn't seem too
"If it's any consolation, you could probably produce
more energy than she could safely channel."
Elsewhere, Template was busy with administrative
matters. Though she did help some with teaching, she had no
formal training in that. She was good with both numbers and
people, though. Just now, she and Eve were startled as three
members of the maintenance staff entered her office in
triumph, interrupting a meeting about whom to contact for
help with further security systems upgrades.
"Figured out the problem with the ball-thrower!" Marcus
announced triumphantly. "Turns out the tube was bending
slightly under load, and distorting the interrupter on the
"That's fine," said Eve, who had understood about three
words out of four in that last part.
"Congratulations," said Template, who understood all of
it but wished they had contained their enthusiasm over this
minor triumph until an appropriate time.
These mild responses did nothing to dampen their glee,
nor to help them realize they were interrupting something.
Indeed, they seemed to take the comments as encouragement to
go into further detail, of the problem and its solution.
"I have an idea," said Template, who had long ago
learned that the best way to get rid of hyper gadgeteers was
to give them something interesting to do. "We've spoken
about using supers with ranged attacks to intercept incoming
projectiles. Could something like the ball thrower be used
to train them in this?"
"It certainly could," said Junker, eyes glazing as he
"I'd appreciate your checking into that. Perhaps even
constructing a prototype for evaluation of the concept."
"We'll get right on it!" said Marcus, eagerly.
"No; wait until more urgent matters are settled," said
Template, quickly. "We don't need it yet. But feel free to
think about it. Meanwhile, though, please follow the current
They left, even more eagerly than they had arrived. Eve
stared after them through the door they had forgotten to
"As Zeus is my witness, I will never understand them,"
she said, shaking her head.
"I do, since I have Gadgetive's pattern," said
Template, with a wry laugh. "Trust me, once the bug starts
gnawing, there's very little which can make it stop except
doing what it wants."
"Well, I'm glad we have someone in management who
speaks their language. Now, about the Bay Area Guardians..."
* * *
"The second semester is definitely going more smoothly
than the first," said Template, as she and Eagle practiced
sitting on a cloud. "Well, the actual school part is. This
new stuff coming in, with the missiles, and Carstairs
The trick was to find a cloud with as sharp a boundary
as you could, then fly close formation in a sitting
position. It was good hovering and slow flight training. But
it was difficult enough that they hadn't formally introduced
it in the flying classes. Not to mention usually requiring
an altitude above that which supers without independence or
life support equipment could function.
"Well, we did have the first semester to help us find
our stride," said Eagle, showing off a bit by reclining onto
the fluffy mist.
"Unfortunately, those same weeks gave our opponents
time to learn about us," said Template, sighing and likewise
flopping back. "As well as for some of the activities which
prompted us to create the school in the first place to
become more developed."
"Did you know that my origin is connected to Energex'?"
said Eagle, out of the blue.
"No, I didn't. And this is apropos to...?"
"Just... thought you should know, since you keep going
up against him. He was originally a teacher at the
university where I got my degree. Used archives of Nazi
experiments - most of them on Jews, Gypsies and such in
death camps - to figure out how to impose force patterns
which mimic super abilities on human tissues to duplicate
"So he's not genetic, either," said Template, nodding.
She started slipping into the cloud a bit. "Wonder if that's
- Whoops! - that's why he recharges so slowly."
"Could be. I know he was working on a machine to
improve his powers within a few weeks of getting them."
Eagle shook his head. "Idiot was calling himself Maximum Man
back then. Anyway, some of us students and teachers who were
keeping an eye on him figured out his plan and decided to
sabotage the device. Only he came back early. I jumped into
the machine and got empowered - watch the duck - only at
first I could just use one power at a time, since the
machine was meant to work with the powers he already had. It
wouldn't have worked on me at all, except that we later
learned I had some super genes which just happened to
heterodyne with what he was doing. My powers gradually
shifted to me having them all at once, though they were also
all greatly reduced in magnitude."
"Let's see... besides flight, you've got mildly
enhanced speed, strength, resilience, some independence,
"And I can start fires by staring hard," said Eagle.
"Basically, watered-down versions of Energex' powers."
"Did he ever improve his powers?"
"Oh, yeah. Several times. Though the increase was less
each time. He's apparently reached the practical limit for
empowerment through that method."
"Yeah, that's pretty interesting. Hey, have they ever
checked into removing his powers by reversing that process?"
"Yes. They've never been able to hold him long enough
to do it, but they did find out there's a good chance it
would also kill him. And even if they successfully did it,
he knows how to get them back."
"So we're stuck with him being a major menace until he
dies of old age or gets killed."
"Well, I need to get back soon. Chicory Chick and
HyperManic are due for detention and it's my turn to
"What did they do now?"
"Got in a food fight in the cafeteria. Just the two of
them. By the time anyone else could react, Speed Freak and
Blue Impact had caught both of them."
"What in..." said Template, as she looked down. "Oh.
Several of the better flyers are playing tag. Including
"Looks like a recreation of the Battle of Britain,"
said Eagle, laughing. "Allessandra sure has straightened out
the past few weeks."
"I'm amazed. Turned out that fixing her inner ear
problem, and giving her a chance to be with kids her own age
who also have powers, plus some counseling, was pretty much
all she needed. She just tried to grow up too fast, due to
circumstances in her life."
"Well, you can wave to them as you head for detention."
"Oh; right. Catch you later!"
Template did wave at the flying children; most waved
back. It appeared that Energia was currently "It" and doing
a good job of chasing down Maldren. Who had been surprised,
early on, to learn just how good at flying some of the
children his own age here were. He'd buckled down and
practiced, and was now much better, himself, but still not
quite in Energia's league in terms of skill. However, given
his better acceleration and higher top speed, he was
managing to keep out of her reach. Barely. Or was he just
Template laughed, shook her head and flew downwards.
She wasn't completely comfortable with the friendship
developing between those two, but so far it didn't seem more
than that, and she was not going to play the part of an
interfering relative. She'd wait and see. Meanwhile, that
game had reminded her of another potential problem for the
If we get many more fliers we'll have to institute some
form of air traffic control, she mused, as she dropped to
the path near the entrance closest to the detention hall.
They already had a low-altitude speed limit, partly due
to Template pointing out the harm sonic booms could do,
following Randy's close brush with that cruise liner.
We have rules no-one ever had to think about before,
and will soon need more, thought Template, as she walked
inside. Good thing we've got so many creative people on
staff. And among the students! I just wish certain
individuals from both groups weren't so creative about
mischief. Some of them entirely by accident.
* * *
"What do you mean you don't have a father?!" said
Energia, stopping to stare at Maldren as they walked towards
their dorms to clean up and relax a bit between last class
and supper, a few days after that particular game of tag.
"The royal line and most noble lines have been
genetically engineering themselves for thousands of years,"
said Maldren. "Mainly to increase the number of us who have
powers, and the level of them. My mother didn't like any of
the candidates put forward as a potential mate by the
Council of Electors, so she took an alternate approach."
"I remember Glomahr telling me there's a saying among
her people," said Energia, as they resumed walking. "That
the most important question to ask before you begin
genetically engineering a species is 'What should we
genetically engineer for?' The Bluegrass Elves chose general
survivability enhancements plus psionics. But to hear that
your mother didn't even... Did she have you, herself, or
were you... Oh! I'm sorry! I guess that's really personal."
"You are honestly interested," said Maldren, shrugging.
"I had a natural birth. It's a matter of pride among us that
no matter how we change ourselves we would still be a viable
species if we somehow lost our technology."
"Yeah, that's pretty much the approach of the Bluegrass
Elves," said Energia, nodding. She shivered. "I hear the
Sheplem are all grown in vats, engineered down to the last
base pair for specific tasks."
"My culture believes in a compromise approach," said
Maldren, proudly. "Half my genetic material was carefully
engineered. This was then used to fertilize one of my
mother's eggs, to provide a natural variation of
"Best of both worlds, then," said Energia. "I don't
know. I guess I'm just old fashioned but I think when I'm
old enough I'll just use the traditional method."
"There are those among us with similar inclinations. As
long as both genomes are strong, there's no stigma to that."
Energia suddenly laughed.
"If my mother knew I was talking about sex with a boy
my age... Well, not sex, but reproduction."
"I have the impression that my people are a bit more
open to this topic than yours, but my mother would still
chastize me for speaking of this publicly."
"Well, it's just the two of us, here, so if she asks,
* * *
"The US military said nothing at first," said Andrea.
"When the cruise line company complained, the Air Force
denied the accusations, saying the ship must have
encountered a freak storm. Then a passenger who happened to
be videotaping his wife on the foredeck sold his recording
to a major news agency. His High-Definition tape clearly
shows the missiles going by. This left the Air Force was
suddenly playing catchup. Now they're saying an unidentified
super flew into a missile test and 'distracted' the missiles
away from the actual target. They're even hinting this was
deliberate, as a prelude to an attack on the cruise liner
like those pirate raids a few months back."
"And the fact that no such attack has taken place is
being ignored by them," said Randy, nodding sourly.
Eve was giving Randy a private briefing about what had
been learned in regard to the attack on him. Randy and not
Template, to help maintain the fiction that they were
separate people. She had also wanted to brief some other
staff members and get their input on this and related
matters. So she had scheduled a special, weekend staff
meeting, to which Randy was specifically invited.
Unfortunately, Template was unable to attend...
"At least after this upgrade is completed we'll have a
defense system with multi-level redundancy," said Eve. "Only
one part should ever be down at any time. We're also letting
some of the gadgeteers create interim defenses to hold the
line while the remaining planned equipment is being put in
"You sure that's a good idea?"
"No, but they're faster than the contractors. Who
knows; if something they install works well enough we may
even incorporate it. We're also making progress with
integrating energy projecting staff and students into the
"There's something else odd about this attack on you,"
said Junker. "The US government is now saying the planes
came from the Eisenhower, as part of a training exercise.
Only the Eisenhower wasn't in the area, but much further
south. So far south that the planes would have needed to
refuel once to get there and once to return. Again implying
a deliberate attempt on your life. Only, there were no
tankers along the necessary flight path."
"So they're not just lying about attacking you, but
about how it was done," said Eve.
"Which means they want to keep wherever those things
came from secret from us," said Randy, nodding. "You know,
whether this was an accident or spur of the moment thing or
a deliberate attack, I bet there's a lot of frantic activity
inside the walls of the Pentagon right now."
"Especially if this was some sort of black project the
regular military wouldn't know about," said Junker. He gave
a sour laugh and shook his head. "Those guys hate that sort
of thing. They figure only they should have the weapons of
mass destruction. And they really chafe at lying to cover
for black ops. Especially when that results in them taking
"The Black Mask has contacts throughout the super
community helping on this," said Randy. "We'll find it, all
right. Especially since many of those we're asking have
"Moving on to other business," said Eve. "Something
else we're working on is alternative means of transportation
to and from the island. We recently learned that one of the
old Sub-Teran tunnels passes less than a hundred fifty
kilometers from here. Some of our gadgeteers say we can tie
"Wow," said Randy, marveling in spite of the
seriousness of the situation. "The Sub-Teran tunnels... I'd
love to see those. All that history, all those
"We've got our gadgeteers - both teachers and students
- working on an Orukter for the digging."
"Wait," said Randy. "If the ocean floor under the
island was uplifted by Pine, how would that affect this
"They're designed to move with the tectonic plates and
other geologic shifts," said Junker. "The scale of the
alteration was large enough that even that far away it was
probably moved some, but for the same reason the movement of
the ground around the tunnel would have a small gradient. It
should still be passable."
* * *
In the assembly of the Zurich Octagon, the secret
managers of the United States (at least in their minds and
those of some others) the discussion turned to the school
and the latest developments involving it.
"At least we know, now, that their defenses are weak,"
"Their non-mask defenses," said Grimes, angrily. "Their
technological defenses. Their automatic defenses. Given
warning, some of those living on that island could pick off
incoming missiles or artillery shells just by thinking bad
thoughts at them."
"I stand corrected."
"Still, this unexpected hole in their automatic
protections could be exploited," said Gabriel.
"They apparently know this; they have recently already
arranged a significant upgrade to their automatic defenses,"
said Harrison. "My sources tell me the earliest these could
be completed is roughly a month an a half from now."
"So the plan to destroy Project Standby fits in
nicely," said Grimes, nodding. "We even have some leeway."
"I propose covering for the operation by staging
another, larger, operation. This on the school, itself,"
"You and your slavery obsession," said Sawyer, sourly.
"It has shown great promise," said Belleau,
insistently. "Even with the loss of that one facility and
those working at and managing it. I see no reason to drop
the idea. We might as well get some good out of these...
Harrison thought for a moment, then nodded.
"Agreed. But do not use DoppelMeister this time. Not
only are his replicates less dependable than real humans,
they would be watching for those."
"A direct assault, then?" said Turner.
"Yes. Our forces are strong enough, now. We wait until
we know they'll be shorthanded for some reason. Then we
stage a lightning assault. In and out, no more than thirty
minutes on the ground. Grab whoever we can, then leave
before they can rally. Meanwhile, our infiltration and
demolition team will be waiting for the operation to start.
Their job will take longer, but with all the supers, normals
and children at the school running around like an overturned
ant hill after the raid..."
"Good plan," said Belleau, enthusiastically. A nasty
smile spread slowly over his face. "I'm looking forward to
doing them one in the eye, after all the trouble they've
caused us in the past. Especially Template and Gadgetive.
Oh, yes; I definitely want Gadgetive back. For some personal
The others pretended not to notice the leer in his
voice. A few shuddered in disgust.
Part Five: Children of the Times
Maldren didn't quite breeze through the flying obstacle
course, but he definitely was doing very well. There was
applause and whistles from some of the others present,
including the non-flyers who just liked to watch.
"Very good," said Eagle, recording the boy's score.
"You're the fastest today, and among the top fifty."
"Top fifty runs, or top fifty flyers at the school?" he
said, a bit of tension there.
"Top fifty runs. Out of several hundred. Including
dozens by myself and Template. Oh, and even counting those
who actually levitate, there's only about forty flyers here.
But more than that have been through the course; we have
supers from all over the world test and even train on some
of our specialized equipment, including this obstacle
"Ah. Not so bad, then."
"And you'll get better with practice," said Eagle,
encouragingly. "Remember, I've been flying for nearly twenty
years. Longer than you've been alive. Skill can definitely
compensate for lack of power."
Maldren nodded, taking this in as he took everything
"All right," said Template, landing at the end of the
course. "I'm afraid that, despite appeals against it, we're
having that special exercise I mentioned at assembly this
morning. Fifteen minutes. And remember, it's mandatory."
There were groans and expressions of dread.
* * *
"I'm okay with women's restrooms, now," said Template,
sighing as she practically melted from Colossa's massaging,
"but I still feel like a fraud in locker rooms and showers.
Even with the individual stalls at school. Naturally, I'm
the one the girls ask for when there's a problem in there.
And it's usually someone huddled in a shower not wanting to
come out. Half the time they're naked, occasionally because
someone stole their clothes."
"You're good with kids and you're available, since you
don't regularly teach classes," said Colossa, who was
definitely wishing they had time to get out of costume. "I
assume this morning was particularly bad?"
"Especially personally," said Template, glad she'd
stopped by the Intrepids' base for lunch and a bit of
socializing before attending a school-related meeting in DC.
"We had the required exposure to a power suppressor this
morning, and, naturally, all of them hated it except the
magicals and the one normal. Some kids took it hard,
including Energia. And she's the one who wound up naked, wet
and sobbing, because she found out she has to do it two more
times just this semester. A couple of other girls also took
refuge in the locker room, but at least kept their clothes
on. That Thurlough kid actually had a panic attack. Claimed
later we'd cheated to make people think he was a super, when
"Too bad there's not a denial suppressor," said
"There are some. But they're only available by
"Hah! Well, I hope your niece is all right. I
understand that's a horrible feeling, and worse for some
"Have you ever been under a neutralizer?" said
Template, turning her head a bit to look over her shoulder.
"No," said Colossa, firmly, "and I don't want to be."
"You really need to know what it feels like. Could give
you a warning that it's being used on you."
"I've heard it described," said Colossa, fervently.
Colossa stopped her ministrations and leaned back,
looking a bit worried.
"It feels like someone has drained the life out of
"Well, that's pretty accurate," said Template,
grudgingly. She sighed and sat up, realizing the treat was
over. "Look. It's policy that every student and teacher at
the school go through that at least once, and we really
recommend multiple exposures. There's some indication -
unconfirmed - that this can help build resistance, since
they're never one-hundred percent. I don't like it, but I've
done it four times already."
"That's you. This is me."
"You just don't want people to know you keep a bit of
growth on in costume, so you're taller," said Template,
"Well, yeah," said Colossa, shyly. "You know that's
part of how I make my hero identity look different from my
"And you also enjoy being taller as Colossa," said
Template, with a grin.
She gave the other woman an affectionate kiss on the
"It's okay, hon. I love you anyway."
"Wait," said Colossa, as something occurred to her.
"Don't you change back to Randy? When you're under the
nullifier, I mean."
"Nope. That's an instantaneous and completed effect, a
result of a change made by a power, not an ongoing effect
like growth. I not only don't change back, I can't change
"Hmmmmm..." said Colossa, getting a scheming look in
"Why do I have the feeling this is going to lead to
* * *
Template whistled happily as she walked out of the
Department of Education office building. For once no
"special interests" had bullied their way into what was
ideally a simple meeting between someone who represented a
school and the government overseers for education. Template
knew they hadn't given up, but had no clue as to why they
weren't here for this particular session.
Maybe there's a flu going around which targets self-inflated bureaucrats, she thought, with a slight smile. Or
an attack of manners. Or maybe...
Among the benefits, they'd finished more quickly than
usual. Template paused on the porch, at the head of the
marble steps, debating heading back to the island or doing a
little sight seeing. She was oblivious to her pose: hands on
hips, cape fluttering a bit in the slight breeze, staring
off into space, the high-heeled boots giving her a much
sexier stance than she realized. Several tourists snapped
She almost missed the approaching TV news crew,
spotting them just before she was going to lift off and fly
away. However, she didn't miss them. Much as she was
tempted, she didn't lift off and fly away, either.
"Excuse me! Miss Temple!"
"Sorry; Miss Tinplate#. May we ask your purpose here?"
"I'm called Template. I was representing the Pine
Island Academy in a routine meeting before the Department of
Educations Standards Board."
"You mean... you weren't here for the Tellhoff Bill
"What is the Tellhoff Bill?"
The man smirked, and his tone became condescending.
"It's only the most important legislative proposal
involving supers in the past thirty years!"
"And what's it supposed to do?"
"It requires all US citizens to wear normal clothing."
Template stared at him.
"Well? What will you do when you can no longer wear a
"A costume is normal clothing for me," said Template,
emphatically. "Just as a burkha is normal clothing for many
Moslem women. Just as a turban is normal for many Sikh men.
Just as a yarmulke is normal for many Jewish men. In a
polycultural society such as the United States, any attempt
to define 'normal' clothing, 'normal' food, 'normal' music,
or 'normal' anything else is a fool's task. Now, if you'll
excuse me, I have a school to get back to."
She flew away while he was still trying to figure out
what 'polycultural' meant. She felt rather irritated at the
man, but also figured she now knew where all those who
normally - excuse the expression - forced themselves into
the board hearings were.
* * *
Flying was something Maldren had been doing since not
long after learning to walk, and he'd started that much
earlier than a terrestrial human would. Swimming, however,
was alien to him.
"Come on!" teased Energia, wearing her mask and a one-piece swimsuit based on her regular costume. She bent down
and splashed water at him. "The ocean's nice and warm, and
it's shallow right here."
"I see neither the entertainment value, nor the
utility," huffed Maldren, who was wearing a portion of his
normal costume which, alone, resembled short-legged tights.
The boy was already a real hardbody, and promised to be
incredibly handsome in a few more years. Energia had noticed him casting discreet glances her way, as well. Which
gave her some definitely odd sensations...
"What if you need to go underwater to rescue someone,
or get into an enemy base?"
"I'll just fly. It still works when wet."
Eventually, she coaxed him into the water, and even
taught him some basic strokes. After serving the minimum
time his honor required, however, he promptly exited.
"The air has become cold," he said, shivering.
"The wind off the ocean is making the water evaporate
more quickly," said Energia, the voice of experience.
"You'll get dry, soon."
Swimming he didn't like. Lying on sun-warmed sand,
however, was a sensual experience both alien and very
attractive to him.
"Don't get too comfortable. Some of the kids are
getting a rugby game together and I want to watch."
"That is a sport I have heard my mother and some others
talk about," said Maldren, with a bit of eagerness. "It
actually piqued my interest in this world, even before my
Mother decided to make me come."
"We better get going, then."
He sighed. They stood together, dusted themselves off
and lifted into the air. Soon they were landing on the top
row of the bleachers overlooking the athletic training area.
Given the climate, and the casual mode of dress it
encouraged, neither felt uncomfortable about what they were
wearing. Indeed, some watching the game were wearing far
"I understand you wanted to stay home but your mother
wanted you to come here," said Energia, as they settled down
in a shady spot. "But why did she? And, yes, Eve, Template
and a few others suggested I ask that, but I won't tell them
if you don't want me to."
"I have no reason not to tell them," he said, watching
intently as the game got underway. "In fact, the general
reason has already been given. Just not all the details."
"As with anything involved with the Empire's rule, the
situation is complicated. I believe the primary reason was
that - influenced by some members of the court, including a
few of my Mother's own family - I had begun to ask why she
had signed a treaty with your world instead of subjugating
it. The concern was that one of our rivals would conquer
Earth and use its resources against us when - as obligated
by the treaty - we came to help."
He looked out at the sports field, where the first goal
had just been scored. He seemed impressed.
"I see now why that is not a legitimate concern."
* * *
The hallways, corridors, rooms, even the ducts and
elevator shafts, all were damp and cold. Those who had
ordered the construction of the place had countered worries
that the environment would be antagonistic to good morale
with assurances that the engineers and technicians would
solve the problems. The engineers and technicians were
rather irritated when their plans to solve the problems were
almost uniformly rejected by the bosses as too expensive.
None of those responsible for the creation of the facility
were ever inside except for brief meetings - such as this
one - and left as soon as they could without seeming to be
making a hasty departure. Everyone else had to put up with
the constant cool, humid air, the closeness, the frequent,
"Let's get this over with," growled a man in late
middle age and a grey suit.
His carefully-groomed appearance was wilting in the
"First order of business is super countermeasures,"
said the base commander, General Hudson, nodding to the
chief of research.
"No change in most projects as detailed in the last
memo," said the man, standing awkwardly, obviously
uncomfortable with such duties. "However, we have an update
on the augmentation program. Dr. Hartford says the first
batch of subjects to undergo his new regimen is ready for
"Excellent," said the grey suit. "If the procedure is
as safe and effective as he claims, we can use it on
volunteers from among our own forces, next.'
There were a few questions and answers back and forth;
then they moved on.
"Senator Story is stable but not improving," said the
General, not sounding at all displeased. "The doctors say
that could change at any time but probably won't. Even if it
does, the change will probably be for the worse."
"I say, if he's not better by the end of the week, try
something experimental on him," one of the others muttered.
"Senator Story is a valued and valuable ally," said the
grey suit. "However, the cover story won't hold much longer.
If he does not begin recovery soon we will have move him, no
matter how risky the doctors think that might be. Then issue
a press release that the cover story was a cover story and
that he had, instead, been under observation following a
"All of which is explicitly true," said one of the few
women the room, and the only one in a suit and not a
Her tone made clear that she had some criticism of the
man's words, but not exactly what. Another man, a supporter
of the head, started to speak, looking angry.
"We're studying options for dealing with the alien at
the school," said the General, quickly, heading off an
argument over who was stating the obvious this time. "Our
evaluation is that a combined operation with the group going
in to attack the institution would be best. We have some
paralyzing toxins and other things which should be useful
against any Sholvak. We're still working on a method of
application. Perhaps it could be used as a coating on some
of the anti-super submunitions which we're planning to use,
"Yes, yes," said the oldest member of the group,
nodding emphatically. "Two birds with one stone. Mutual
support. Only one backup team needed. Very efficient."
A few more matters were brought up. Each, like those
already discussed, was considered so confidential that
besides these meetings the only way information about them
was communicated was via courier. All the old business was
updated and the new business dealt with; then the next
meeting was scheduled, and the session adjourned. The
General, himself, escorted the visitors back to their
subshuttle. US Military personnel from the Army and Navy
were seen on the way, saluting when they encountered the
Even once underway the visitors didn't relax much.
"These tunnels give me the creeps," one muttered,
shifting uneasily in his seat.
"At least they're sturdier than that base. And dryer."
* * *
"The judge in the defamation suit against me dismissed
the charges, since the psychiatrist has vanished," said
Solange. "That's also helped my case against my parents."
"Good news," said Randy, though his mood was subdued.
"Though I guess it's also mixed news. Inherently."
Randy hoped he was paying sufficient attention to the
girl's problems. He was distracted, and with good reason.
Template had made a point of stopping back by the Intrepids'
base before returning to the island. To her disappointment,
Colossa and most of the other team members were out on an
emergency call. So she had become Randy to check on some
Randy things. And caught Template's interview on the hourly
news when Solange spotted a blurb promoting it and called
him to the monitor room. Besides seeing the version the
station Solange was watching showed, Bunter, forewarned, had
tivoed multiple channels for them to watch in retrospect.
Most stations and networks showed the whole thing, with
little or no editing, since it was so brief. And then their
commentators completely missed the point, claiming
Template's statements were an outrageous example of super
elitism. Some lambasted "Miss Tinplate" for bashing
religion. Others for trying to establish supers as a
religion. Randy was obviously distressed by all this. Hence
Solange's quickly changing the subject by announcing the
news about her legal troubles.
"Yeah, I know what you mean,' said Solange, sighing,
bringing Randy back to the immediate topic. "I don't want to
hurt my parents. I just want them to stop hurting me. But
they won't accept that. They think they're the heroes in
this case, and are mystified why I've become a villain.'
"At least your parents know you're Solange. I still
can't tell mine, or even my sister."
"That is such a weird setup," said Solange, shaking her
head. "They all know Jenny is going to a super school and
wears a costume a large part of the time, but they still
haven't twigged that you're Template? Or anyone but good ol'
"That's how they know me. I was never much for
costumes, even on Halloween. So they just don't see me in
* * *
"I am sorry about this," said Template, sighing. "They
ambushed me with something I didn't know about."
"There was nothing wrong with your remarks," said
Andrea, sympathetically. "Indeed, members of the groups you
cited have been almost unanimous in approving of your
comments while attacking the bill."
"That's good news."
Template yawned before she could catch it.
"Sorry. All that flying, the tension over the
She interrupted herself by yawing again.
"Don't worry about it," said Andrea, obviously amused.
"School day's over, and the administrative work done. You
can fly home and get to bed early. Rest for that big date
"Does everyone in the school know about that?" said
Template, a bit alarmed.
"Well, you've been gushing about an upcoming Saturday
night date with an unnamed female all week."
"Oog. Guess it's a good thing I'm already out as a
* * *
Randy stretched and sighed, then looked at his watch.
"What's taking you so long, anyway?"
"You went through getting ready for a date as a girl
yourself. Why do you have to ask?"
When Karen finally exited the bedroom Randy forgot all
about his impatience.
"Damn, you look fine," he said, standing slowly.
"So, was I worth the wait?"
They took Karen's car, which was newer and, frankly,
much nicer than Randy's. The restaurant had their
reservations and they were seated soon after arriving. They
ordered, then conversed quietly, with long periods of
silence, until the food arrived. Even the desert was
They went dancing, then, not returning to their shared
apartment until the wee hours. And then spent a long,
pleasant time on another kind of dancing.
* * *
After the debacle with HyperManic the first semester,
the school had been reluctant to let students go to Bermuda
at all, much less unsupervised. The island government had
also been reluctant, for a while. However, the damages had
been made good, and many tourists had subsequently asked
where the supers were, so they eventually decided to forgive
and forget. And cash in.
The main motivation for allowing students to visit
Bermuda was to help students become accustomed to appearing
in public wearing their chosen costumes. And also to help
civilians - both native and tourist - to become used to
seeing particular costumes and associating them with the
A secondary purpose for the students was to remind them
there was a larger, mundane world out there. Remembering
that, and learning how to interact with normals while in
costume, was an important skill all by itself.
The unwritten but very firm policy put in place by the
school was that no group would be smaller than ten students,
at least half had to be over sixteen, and at least one in
five had to be a "known responsible individual." Which
specific students met that last criteria was not on any
list. Indeed, those deemed qualified tended to change
depending on who was doing the qualifying. However, Lasher,
Cosmic Ray, Jr., Ettienne, Mentat 7 and Chelydra were widely
known to be on most of these mental lists.
The lure of Bermuda was great enough that even those
not considered "responsible" were willing to put up with the
rules to spend time there. Of course, this meant extra work
for the "responsibles" and less time for them and those not
truly irresponsible to enjoy Bermuda, since they had to keep
the true troublemakers in line, and occasionally find them.
Energia and Interceptor spotted Velocirapper at almost
the same time. They looked at each other, nodded, turned and
waved to Lasher to get her attention, then pointed.
"He's in the porn shop, again," Energia shouted down at
Lasher as she left the others and headed in the direction
indicated at a trot.
Velocirapper looked up at the familiar voice and
scowled. He never wore a costume; he'd outed himself by
accident less than a month after his powers manifested, and
his alternate form was far more distinctive than any
colorful uniform. In human form he wore normal clothes
appropriate to the situation. In raptor form he wore only a
sort of large thong. Since he was one of the few
transforming supers whose costume changed with him, this
worked quite well for Velocirapper.
"It's not a porn shop!" he shouted up at the
youngsters. "It's a magazine store which carries porn!"
The two flyers took high cover, circling around
overhead and distracting Velocirapper while Lasher came up
behind him. His first warning was a rawhide strip flicking
over his shoulder.
"Busted," said Lasher, smirking.
"I'm through here," said Velocirapper, calmly. "Where
is the rest of the group?"
Unfortunately, the rest of the group, egged on by
Doomster, had decided to follow Lasher. The two groups on
the ground intercepted in an alley between blocky, low-income residences, with laundry strung on lines between
them. Which made landing a bit difficult for the two flyers.
By the time Energia and Interceptor reached ground
level, Doomster had already found more trouble. Or maybe,
for once, it had found him. A group of local teenage toughs
had trailed Lasher and Velocirapper and were now shouting
insults at the young supers, in multiple languages and with
accompanying gestures. Doomster had pushed past the two
older teens to confront them.
"Go ahead," said Doomster, sneering and sticking his
chin out. "I'll give you a free shot."
"Don't..." said Lasher.
The islander struck before she could get any further.
The blow was strong enough for them to feel. Doomster went
flying into and through a nearby wall. There was a kitchen
on the other side, fortunately not being used at the moment.
There was an astonished pause on the part of the
students. Then the local toughs swarmed over them.
Energia was far enough back to have a chance to fly up
out of easy reach. One of the men leapt at her, but by this
time she'd put her plasma wall up. He bounced off,
screaming, pieces of laundry falling with him. After hitting
the ground he immediately clambered back to his feet and
began pounding on Wolfman Mack, who was still changing and
not at full strength. Doomster, though obviously shaken,
climbed back through the hole he'd made in the wall.
Immediately, another of the gang members slugged him,
knocking him down and apparently out.
Energia fired a tentative blast at one of the toughs
who was about to put his fist through Lasher's chest. She
didn't know how much to use; they were obviously more
resilient than normals but how much so? She didn't seem to
hurt him but he yelped and looked up in surprise. Which gave
Lasher a chance to snap a short whip into his left eye. The
man screamed and staggered back.
What do I do? thought Energia, looking frantically
She saw Interceptor floating behind her, a bit higher,
looking dazed; he might have a black eye starting. Energia
had an idea. She had ranged attacks; he didn't. She
remembered that Pine Island was below the horizon from here,
and their personal coms not powerful enough to reach around
that curve. Relaying a message through the boat crew would
"Interceptor! Get higher and call for help!"
He made the OK sign and started climbing like he was
going for orbit. Energia turned her attention back to the
fight just in time to see another of the thugs leaping at
her. Rather than simply let him hit her, she fired a plasma
bolt at him, knocking him back to the ground. She'd wanted
to use him to hit one of his friends, but such application
of her powers was a bit beyond her current level of skill.
Still, she came close enough to cause the other man to
hesitate, and the leaper seemed out of the fight, at least
for the moment. Energia moved a bit higher and forward to be
over the center of the quarter-dozen bad guys not yet
engaged, and began firing bolts at the men.
Unfortunately, this brought her to the attention of
more of them. Two from that group leaped at her, and a third
threw a motor scooter. She dodged the men and shot the
scooter back at the thrower, but bumped into a wall in the
process, her plasma wall searing away a broad streak of
paint and making a noxious cloud. More laundry fell when,
spinning away, she reflexively grabbed at an anchor for one
of the lines. As she recovered, yet another jumped at her.
He hit her plasma wall and yelled in pain, but instead of
letting go just looked determined and wrapped his arms
around it - and her - squeezing. Energia felt a stab of
fear, and pumped everything she had into the wall. The man
screamed and fell away, clothes flaming and skin blistered.
Energia quickly checked her fall and regained altitude,
before any of the other attackers could take advantage. A
survey of the situation showed that most of her classmates
were down, while most of the attackers were still in the
fight. The school students had started with a nearly two-to-one advantage, but now the situation was reversed. Energia
gritted her teeth, and held both hands in front of her.
The force bolt pinned a good half of the attacking
young men to the ground and held them there, while not
solidly catching any of her classmates. She did clip Wolfman
Mack and HyperManic, but since they were on the edge of the
effect this mainly pushed them away from it, and from the
attackers. Several of the attackers not pinned were also
knocked off balance, which was part of her goal.
"Gonna strobe!" she shouted, accomplishing the
impressive task of building a charge while also holding the
Her cry made those who had practiced with her cower and
cover their eyes, while it made several of the assailants
look up at her. Perfect.
She dropped the force bolt and let the charge loose. A
brilliant flash filled the street and washed over the tops
of buildings, bouncing around corners. Immune to her own
powers, Energia was quickly able to see that her ploy had
worked; most of the attackers had been dazzled enough to be
unable to fight, while those she was helping were far less
affected. Energia began herding the attackers into a single,
squirming pile with another double-handed force beam.
Velocirapper, finally in reptile form, and Europa shoved the
rest into the pile.
"Put anybody can't walk on that big sheet of roofing
over there!" Energia shouted, almost pointing before
catching herself. "I'll use the Meissner Effect to carry
them while the rest of you follow on your own power!"
"Not runnin'," muttered Doomster, trying to get to his
Fortunately, he was too stunned to actually carry out
his stubbornness. Energia held the men away from her friends
while they hurried to pile the injured and unconscious on
the metal sheet. Then she quickly shifted her powers,
getting a magnetic lock on the galvanized steel, lifting it
off the ground and pulling it down the alley. The other
students ran after her. Energia could see the docks in the
distance, and plotted the most direct course she could.
Behind them came shouts and insults from the gang, who were
free and starting to get their vision back.
The students' troubles weren't over. The dirty dozen
gang members caught them more quickly than any human should
have been able to. Energia was thoroughly occupied, with
lifting and propelling the sheet while also holding it rigid
and level. She couldn't fly too fast or risk someone blowing
off. She didn't dare raise the sheet any higher, in case
someone fell off anyway. Those on the ground would have to
fend for themselves. Fortunately, these were largely the
most competent fighters in the group, social evolution
resulting in them being the most likely to still be on their
feet. The group of students made a strategic retreat towards
the docks, defending successfully against repeated attacks.
The other locals seemed confused by all this super
activity. They scattered out of the way, but otherwise just
stared. Energia wondered who they would blame for all the
fuss and property damage. She thought she heard police
sirens in the distance but wasn't sure. Even if she were
right about that, they were heading towards where the fight
had started, and not where it now was.
The battered group reached the dock where the school's
boat was moored. The defenders stopped well before that, to
hold off their attackers while Energia and the less injured
placed the more injured carefully on the boat. Captain
Jackson and his small crew were too confused to do much at
first, but quickly recovered. At the Captain's barked orders
two men began casting off while he and another helped with
"I think they're afraid of the water," said the
Captain, as he secured the last injured student. "They could
swarm us easy if they just jumped in and swam to the boat."
"They're not after anyone in particular," said Energia,
actually panting as she recovered from her efforts. "They
just want to fight. Us. Any of us."
"So they may try to swim after us when we leave."
"Maybe," said Energia. "I'm gonna cover the others as
"I'll fire up the engine."
As it turned out, when they saw the students were
leaving, the gang members switched from attacking to jeering
and making rude gestures.
"I'm tempted to fry the lot of 'em," muttered Energia,
settling down on the rear deck of the moving boat after the
last of the defenders jumped aboard.
"Don't," said Lasher. "Not only would you take out the
dock, you're tired enough that you'd probably not even be
able to fly afterwards."
"I'm not tired!" said Energia, even as she realized she
was. "Well, I don't want to damage the dock."
The rescue party came swooping in towards Bermuda, led
by Interceptor, who must have met them halfway. They spotted
the boat and came down to land on the deck, making the craft
"Who's hurt and how bad?" demanded Eagle.
Lasher gave a quick accounting of the worst injured.
After a check to assure themselves there was no reason not
to move them, those three were given to Invicta and Eagle.
Cyclone Ranger stayed to take detailed notes, then fly on to
Bermuda and report the assault to the authorities.
Next, several students came flying, running or swimming
out from Pine Island to meet the boat. Maldren was the first
to arrive, and he went directly to Energia.
"Are you injured?"
"No. Just a little tired."
"She was fantastic!" gushed Wolfman Mack, back in human
form to save room. "Held the whole group of attackers off
while carrying most of us to safety!"
Energia blushed, while Maldren put an arm over her
shoulders and beamed at her with pride.
#I don't feel all reporters are idiots any more than I
feel all psychiatrists or politicians are idiots. It's just
that the idiots are far more entertaining. ;-)
Part Six: Still Mortal
"You can relax," said Dr. Whiskers. "It's not cancer."
"Whew!" said Template, sagging with relief.
"I suggest you cut down on caffeine. That's the primary
causative factor in fibrous breast lumps like this. I'd also
suggest you self-exam more often. Don't leave it up to
Colossa to find them for you. This one was large enough you
should have found it weeks ago."
"Uh, yeah," said Template, sheepishly. "The caffeine is
because of the hectic time we had getting the school ready
for second semester. That's easing off, now. And, well, I do
self-exam. It's just that, ah, Karen plays harder than I do.
And she's more familiar with how a breast should feel."
"No excuses. Just to be safe, I want to see you again
in thirty days. I'm making a place for you on my schedule
right now, and I will page you, most likely at an awkward
and embarrassing moment."
"Now, what's this I hear about that lovely niece of
yours getting into a fight."
Template related the events in the attack on the
"For many of them, this was their first real fight,"
she said, summing up. "I'm pretty happy with how well they
did. Especially Energia. Folks say she pretty much saved the
Her smile turned unexpectedly to a scowl.
"I just wish she weren't so tight with Maldren."
"What of those who attacked them? Have you determined
who they were and how they all came to have the same
"They had all the hallmarks of Dr. Hartford's
augments," said Template, scowling even harder, "only
"It's public knowledge you're there," said Dr.
Whiskers, thoughtfully. "And it's widely known among super
circles that Randy visits there on occasion. He very well
could be keeping an eye on you, and the school as a whole."
"And taking advantage of available disenfranchised
local youths as test subjects for his improvements," said
Template, nodding. "We've already discussed that, and a few
other things connected - or which may be connected - with
* * *
"Wish I'd been there," muttered the elf girl, the
multiple gold earrings in her large ears glinting and
occasionally jingling together as her head moved with her
energetic conversation. "Haven't had a good scrap in months.
Between my psi and my magic, I could'a been a big help."
She and several others were sitting around the lounge
area of the girls' dorm, resting after supper. Moondance was
also waiting for the next delivery of her evening supply of
fresh animal blood. She refused to drink it with her supper,
something which a number of students and teachers were
grateful for, but felt no qualms about drinking it away from
the dining hall and its regular food.
"I'm glad I wasn't there," said Beverly, aka Moondance,
waving a distracted greeting to the tech who had just
entered, carrying a sealed carton. "Too much chance of
"If you don't test yourself you can't get better at
it," said Glomahr, with a short, matter-of-fact nod.
The tech placed the carton on the corner table beside
the large tumbler Moondance used for this purpose. Still
involved in the conversation, she absently opened the carton
and poured its contents into the tumbler. Most of the girls
had learned to ignore the process, or pretend the thick, red
liquid was actually something else. Glomahr had actually
surprised - and revolted - most of them by occasionally
finishing what Moondance left. The two shared more than
large canines. Bluegrass Elves were nearly as carnivorous as
wolves, and fresh animal blood was considered a delicacy by
Beverly raised the plastic tumbler, but before it
reached her lips she gasped, shied back, and hurled the
tumbler away so hard it not only shattered on the far wall
but splattered most of those there with the contents.
"That's human blood!" the vampire girl screamed.
"It's artificial," said the tech, quickly. "Made from
cultured bone marrow."
"I will not drink human blood!" Beverly shrieked,
jumping to her feet, fangs bared.
"But it... it's not real..."
She screamed again and ran out into the night.
"Congratulations!" snapped Eve, a few minutes later,
after being summoned and having the situation explained.
"You just ticked off a Grand Master Class vampire! Everyone
but Template, Andrea and myself stay here!"
"I want to go, too," said Glomahr.
"All right," said Eve, after a brief consideration.
She and the others hurried after the girl.
They found her, naked, wet and sobbing, in the shower.
"Does this happen at other boarding schools, too?" said
Template, exasperated. "Or is there something different
about our school, our students, or some combination?"
"In her case I suspect she felt a need for cleansing,"
said Eve. "Glomahr, will you try talking to her? Predator to
"Sure," said the little elf girl.
She needed a while, but eventually she got Moondance
dried, dressed and out of the building to meet with the
adults in a less public place.
"Beverly, I officially apologize," said Eve, seriously.
"I will have a firm word with the entire biotech staff first
thing... No, I'll do it tonight. Get them all out of bed if
I have to. This was inexcusable."
"Th-thank you," said Moondance, almost sobbing again.
"Now, we'll have someone bring you some non-human blood
"I think I'll just sk-skip it for tonight," the vampire
girl said. "I've been t-taking it pretty regularly and could
easily go for a couple of days. There won't be any
"If you're sure..."
"I'll be with her," said Glomahr. "I moved into her
"She likes to cuddle," said Moondance, actually rolling
her eyes, demonstrating she was beginning to return to
"Hey, I get more from wolves than these teeth! C'mon,
Bev, I know you're a night person and my folk are naturally
nocturnal, but I think we should both head for bed early."
Glomahr took Beverly by an arm and gently guided her
"Are you sure they're not...?" said Andrea.
"Pretty sure," said Template. "I've met her parents,
seen their home. She has a separate bedroom, but will often
nap with one or both parents. Tiger tells me that in the
wild members of a tribe all curl up together in an enclosed
den, or in several subgroups if it's large enough. Though he
also tells me they have strong libidos and mature sexually
earlier than humans do. They also have fewer hangups about
sex. So don't take it for granted she's as young as she
"I thought only the alpha pair in a pack mated," said Andrea.
"That's northern wolves. Southern ones, when there's
plenty of food, will let any mate that want to. And the
Bluegrass Elves aren't wolves, or even part wolf; they just
adopted some lupine characteristics. Or, rather, their
ancestors did, after emigrating to the New World from
Europe, nearly two thousand years ago."
* * *
The Bermuda police were reporting several encouraging
leads on finding the enhanced toughs who had attacked the
students, but so far had produced no actual results.
Meanwhile, Template and the tech staff worked on tapping the
old Sub-Teran tunnels. Gadgetive even had an idea for using
them as waveguides for secure communications. Their UN
contacts were strongly supporting the idea of using the old
tunnels, and had actually arranged for a technical expert to
meet with Eve, Template and some of the gadgeteers to
discuss the matter.
"Good afternoon," said the older woman, in a cultured,
upper-class English accent, as Template met her at the base
air/spaceport. "I am Lady Olivia Carver."
"I am very pleased to meet you," said Template, eagerly
offering her hand. "I've read and heard much about you."
"And I, you," the other replied, shaking hands.
"If you'll come this way I borrowed a flitter to take
you down to the school. If you have time, later, I can use
it to give you a proper tour."
"That would be lovely."
They shortly landed outside the school's administrative
building. Inside everyone else involved was already present,
with Junker ready to present their plans. After he finished
Lady Carver began asking questions and making comments, Eve
guiding the meeting into an informal discussion.
"You say you haven't yet chosen a location for the
station," said Lady Carver. "I suggest you use the old
Project Standby facilities,"
"It was an emergency command and control center, built
on Pine Island to take advantage of several resources in the
area. There were even plans to connect to the Sub-Teran
tunnels, but those fell by the wayside when the base was
closed following a treaty banning much of what it was
supposed to do. They kept it open for a while as part of an
emergency communications system, but it was soon
"First I've heard of it."
"It was finally closed in the late Eighties as part of
a major budget cut. So major that the facility was simply
mothballed and sealed. The equipment would be a bit old by
now, but still serviceable. If you agree to this, we can
have people here in a few days to take a look at it. We'd
even partially fund the work of converting it. That would
let us monitor the project, just to satisfy ourselves that
all the eyes are crossed and the tees are dotted."
"If it would make things go faster, we could supply
super help," said Template. "Even bring in friends not
officially part of the school."
"Actually, I was thinking of asking for that," said
Lady Carver. She smiled slightly. "It would greatly aid our
* * *
"Hey, kid!' said Rapscallion, waving to Gadgetive.
"Good to see you again. I hear you're finally finished with
all that child super slavery ring stuff. I'm just surprised
Thurlin is still free.'
Most of the senior members of the Intrepids were at the
old Pine base to help with the locating and opening of the
Standby facility. Gadgetive was planned to be instrumental
in the operation, so was waiting when the Intrepids entered.
After a brief welcome, Junker and the other staff members
held back to let the Intrepids and Gadgetive socialize a
bit. They trailed along behind the costumed supers during
the walk to the lab.
"Actually, that had been started two administrations
before Thurlin took office,' said Gadgetive. "So while he
took some heat for not knowing about them - assuming he
really didn't and wasn't just lying about that, too - he and
his folks escaped most of the blame. Worse, with all the
convictions and firings Thurlin was able to put more of his
people in position. So I just helped him consolidate his
"You got most of the people responsible for a child
slavery ring out of power and into prison,' said Template,
"Try to think of it as giving Thurlin enough rope to
hang himself,' said Rapscallion.
"It also resulted in many previous kidnapings being
solved,' said the Black Mask. "A large number of supers in
their teens and early twenties were rescued and
deprogrammed, then returned to their families. Some had been
missing for fifteen years. A few hadn't even been known to
be supers before their rediscovery.'
"But we didn't get the top boss or his direct aides,"
said Gadgetive, emphatically. "Too many layers and cells and
need-to-know restrictions in their organization. They're
just too well hidden."
"There are many people still working on that, working
their way through the connections," said the Black Mask,
seriously. "We will find those responsible."
"Anyway, on a lighter note, I've got the prototype of
my communications station ready."
She led them into the private workshop she had finagled
out of the Pine base personnel. There were many odd shapes
under cloths in the large room. She went straight to one of
those and yanked off the cover to reveal a massive, busy,
complex and more than a little ominous machine.
"I call it... B.I.G. A.L."
"I thought this was supposed to be some sort of
communications relay,' said Bowman.
"Yeah. You put it in the old Sub-Teran tunnels and it
uses them as waveguides for a dedicated com system,' said
Gadgetive, proudly. "Put one of these everywhere you want to
tap the system. It picks up the signals and converts them to
something more traditional. It uses a radioisotope power
system good for a minimum of eighty-seven years. Completely
"The girl is good," said Junker, with an almost
"I hope you're planning on some sort of outer casing,"
said Bowman, prowling around the machine, looking but not
"Oh, yeah; it's over in the corner. A ceramic-metal
composite. Similar to Chobham armor, but more resilient."
"Good job," said Bowman, nodding. "I'd really like to
see the specs."
"Got 'em here," said Gadgetive, proudly, leading the
fellow gadgeteer to a bench.
Junker and the tech moved in to participate.
"Well, that'll keep them busy for a while," said
Rapscallion, quietly, as he, Template and the Black Mask
"Too bad Colossa couldn't make it," said Template,
"We had to leave someone senior behind," said the Black
Mask. "I need to speak with Eve about some bureaucratic
matters, Bowman's function is pretty obvious, and we know
better than to inflict Rapscallion on our innocent younger
"Y'know, I miss this sort of banter," she said, as the
trio made their way out of the base.
"Well, I'd be happy to visit more often, but they won't
let me out of the country without a keeper."
"Oh, I can very well believe that. Anyway, after school
lets out this afternoon Lady Carver and some of her
specialists are going to show us where the installation is,
and help us get inside. Until then, I'm available to escort
* * *
Template didn't like walking on soft ground. The heels
of her boots tended to sink in. And if she forgot and simply
walked normally without deliberately lifting those heels
clear, they often caught on things. Which either broke or
tripped her, depending on how much strength she had at the
moment. Which is why she was flying above the others as they
tramped through the jungle. She knew this made it look like
she was showing off to those who didn't know her, but at the
moment didn't care. Besides, by lifting up between the low
growth and the canopy she was able to get a better view of
the ground where they were searching. Which, frustratingly,
still didn't help her find the entrance to the bunker.
"According to the old directions," said one of the UN
techs, consulting a GPS unit, "we're right on top of it."
"It's been less than twenty years," said Eve, frowning
as she swept her gaze around the scene. "Could it have been
overgrown or buried in such a short interval?"
"Remember, this growth was intended to cover bare
ground quickly," said the Black Mask, who seemed to have
already known the woman. "It..."
"Found it!" shouted Gadgetive. "Hah! And they said a
MAD wouldn't work on it!"
"A which?" said Eve.
"Magnetic anomaly detector," Template explained,
absently, as she landed beside the young gadgeteer, while
the others made their way through the thick growth to the
same position. "Finds disturbances in the Earth's magnetic
field caused by large amounts of steel, or by the electrical
current running through cables."
Gadgetive had, indeed, found a semi-buried and
completely overgrown metal hatch.
"That's not on the plans," said the UN tech, frowning.
"Could it be something of Pine's?"
"Not likely," said Lady Carver. "He isn't known to have
done any digging here, and the area around the installation
we're looking for was built long after he was shut down."
"This door's only eight years old," said Gadgetive, now
frowning herself as she applied some sort of custom-made
sensor unit. "And the controls are live."
"Something the UN didn't think to tell you about?" said
the Black Mask.
"Unlikely. This was all declassified two years ago. And
I have more than enough clearance for anything likely to be
here, even without that."
"My experience has been that the less likely something
is to be somewhere, the more likely some clever person is to
think that makes it the perfect place."
"Needs a keycard and code number," said the tech,
examining the door as some of his companions cleared it.
"I think all non-supers should stand back," said
Template, feeling oddly irritated. She looked over at Lady
Carver. "Since this isn't supposed to be here, there should
be no objections on the part of the UN to my forcing it,
Lady Carver hesitated, thinking the matter through,
then nodded. Template smiled a bit like Clint Eastwood, and
reached for the door.
* * *
"They're in the base!' said Grimes, as he finally got a
private moment with Harrison.
"What?! How did they find out about it?'
"Unknown. However, since there is nothing obvious about
its builders or its purpose, we still have time to destroy
* * *
The door they'd initially forced turned out to be a
concealed escape hatch, leading directly from the control
room to the surface. It was obviously new construction,
added long after the base had supposedly been sealed. Once
inside they'd backtracked through a small security section
to the main entrance, which gave far easier - if less
detectable - access. The concealed hatch - located on the
far side of a low rise from the main entrance - had been
"This is just bizarre," said the tech, comparing what
they were seeing to the plans he had brought. "The layout is
the same as the plans show, but most of the equipment has
been updated to current or near-current standards."
"Which is a violation of international and even
interstellar treaty!" huffed Lady Carver. "I'm going to step
outside and call in a forensic investigation team. Please
don't go any further than this room. And don't touch
anything! Not only do we not know what these controls are
for, you could disrupt important evidence."
For the next two days two forensic teams, each working
with a pair of experienced gadgeteers, went over the base
with a fine-toothed microscope. While they learned where the
equipment was from, they uncovered nothing to tell them who
had put it here, or why. Most of the specific items were
supposed to be installed in US military bases, or even
"Someone has been diverting funds and equipment," said
Eve, sourly. "I wonder how much of the opposition to our
school is explained by this..."
"Except that it's apparently never been used," said
Andrea. She shook her head. "It's like it was built - and
modified and upgraded - for a specific purpose which just
hasn't happened yet."
"It reminds me of those old Cold War supply caches,"
said Template. "I understand the UN security guys are still
working on cracking the encryption on the data."
"Encryptions. Several different types, all US issue,
both civilian and military. Even some of the printed
documents are encrypted. And most of the rest is
manufacturer's manuals, operating instructions, procedural
guidelines, and such. Not many clues about who modified that
place or why. Except from the machines, themselves. And all
they tell us it that it was a communication and command
center for somebody!"
* * *
Template forced yet another secured door. Once certain
nothing would explode, zap or spew acid, the forensic team
and Junker approached.
"This is supposed to be a blank, rock wall," said the
man with the plans. "Instead, it looks like they dug a new
corridor and put in this steel wall and security door."
"The rest of the new stuff we've found was just
replacing or modifying what was already here," said Junker,
nodding as he aimed a light through the door and down the
corridor. "This is all new construction."
"We better get Lady Carver in here," said Template.
"This looks pretty big. And sounds it, too, from the echo."
"This entire section is not on the plans," said Lady
"That's what Junker tells us," said Template, nodding.
"You have no information on this?"
The two women followed Junker and the UN forensic team
down the corridor, their footsteps eerily quiet on the
neoprene flooring. Most of these doors were unlocked, though
closed. The rooms behind them were workshops and storerooms,
plus a couple of well-equipped laboratories. There was also
"Whatever was in this section, it was so dangerous,
important, secret or whatever that they didn't want people
coming in and out except to arrive for their shift and leave
when it was over," said Junker. "The fact that some of these
doors - including those at the end of the hallway - are high
and double-wide tell me it was something big. So does the
large hydraulic lift leading to overhead doors. And I'll bet
we'll find it in that last room."
Those doors were locked, and far sturdier than any yet
found in the base.
"This could take a while," muttered Template, running
her hands over the armored metal. "Maybe we should wait
until after class and call in Chestnut."
"I think I can bypass the code pad and trip the lock,"
said Junker, pulling out some tools.
"Go ahead," said the leader of the forensic team.
"We've already got all we're going to from out here."
Junker pried the cover off the keypad, unscrewed it
from the wall and began jumpering wires.
"Have you discovered, yet, where the power is coming
from?" said Lady Carver.
"Small nuclear reactor," said Template, with a grimace.
"New installation. The original had cables running to wind
mills, solar panels and tidal generators, all removed when
this place was shut down. The folks who reopened it put the
reactor in what had been the staff quarters, and converted
the commissary into new quarters. The modifiers obviously
planned for a smaller staff, but higher energy consumption
over a longer time."
"After finding and examining the bunkroom we knew that
area had been used extensively, unlike the rest of the
base," said the head of the UN team. "This area also looks
like it was operational for several years before being
He looked around, puzzled.
"You have to wonder what they were planning to use it
There was a spark, a scent of something burning and a
muffled obscenity from Junker.
"Need any help?" Template asked, playfully.
"No! I've almost got... Yeah!"
There was a distinct clunk from the lock. Junker
started to reach for the handle, then shied back and
gestured for Template to go first. She rolled her eyes, put
everything into resilience and independence, and opened the
The room beyond was dark, except for dim light from
emergency exit signs. Template started feeling around for a
light switch, but Junker stopped her.
"No telling what's in here or what flipping the wrong
switch might do," he explained, pulling out a powerful hand
Light splashed a distorted circle on a large piece of
equipment. Junker adjusted the diameter until the entire
device was included. Then began slowly backing out of the
room as he swept the beam around to reveal more of them.
They appeared to be large, articulated, armored and armed
"Holy shit!" yelled Junker, accelerating his
Template remained inside, but went on combat alert.
Nothing happened for several seconds, and she began to
"Don't care. Not going in there. From the size and
style, those have gotta be Mark IIIs or Vs, maybe even IVs!"
"Wasn't it three Mark IVs which took over Cape Kennedy
"Those were Mark IIs," said Junker, trying to push the
door closed. Since Template was casually holding it open so
she could look continue to look around he got nowhere. He
began hurriedly explaining. "They hadn't figured out when
those were built that the bits of alien tech were modifying
the programming. The Mark IIIs were entirely human made, as
were the Mark Vs, but for the Mark IV project in Sixty-Nine
they tried putting some alien tech back in. Fortunately, an
oversight committee told them they were crazy and stopped
the project. Then, in Seventy-One, Nixon ordered the project
revived and the dozen prototypes completed. Nobody knows
what he was planning to do with them; the project was still
ongoing when he resigned, and by the time the units were
completed and - Surprise! - revolted Carter was the fall
guy. They were destroyed - with a lot of difficulty - and
the project closed. Rumors persisted, though, that another
batch had been almost completed at a separate facility
before the revolt, and hidden somewhere after the shut-down.
"If those are Mark IVs, they could constitute a bigger
threat to the planet than Energex and Queen Tolnar combined.
They were nicknamed the Synthetic Supers, because they used
alien tech to simulate powers."
"Hooooo..." said Template, releasing the door and
letting him close it. "What do we do with them?"
"We order everyone out of the compound, immediately.
The activity could trigger them. Then, the other gadgeteers
and I will suit up and make a detailed inspection."
"Yes," said Lady Carver, nodding. "I agree with your
She pulled out her com. Junker stopped her.
"Your pardon, Lady, but that is exactly the sort of
thing which could cause a problem. I suggest we tell the
others in person."
The older woman paled and put her com away. Then she
pulled it out, removed the battery, and put it away again.
Template and Junker also removed the batteries from their
coms, as did the forensic team. Then, quickly but quietly,
* * *
"I can have a dozen T.O.W.E.R. Agents* in Dread Knight
armor there in an hour," said Commander Spike.
"Only if you keep them outside the installation unless
we specifically call them in," said Lady Carver. "According
to the techs and gadgeteers, any EMF could awaken the
Myrmidons. The gadgeteer team is going in all-mechanical,
completely non-magnetic. That should be safe."
"Yes, of course," said Commander Spike. "I didn't mean
to imply we were taking command the situation away from you.
Just letting you know what short-term support you can count
on from us."
"Thank you, Commander. You're presence will definitely
* * *
"And now they've found the Myrmidons," said Grimes,
sourly. "There's a good chance they can uncover enough clues
in those assault machines to learn who was responsible for
them being there."
He slammed his fist on the table.
"What is taking so long?!"
"We've accelerated the schedule," said Harrison,
defensively. "Our strike teams will be ready to go in just
two days. I doubt they'll uncover that information in such a
short time. They'll want to work slowly and carefully, not
realizing how much work we put into making them safe and
"All right," said Grimes, reluctantly. "You're probably
right. I just wish we'd already destroyed that bunker."
"It takes time to covertly mobilize such forces. Cover
stories have to be created, documents forged... You know we
have to think long-term and not rush into something on the
off chance we'll be compromised. Now, about the plans for
* * *
The strike team moved through the jungle towards the
facility carefully, in spite of being behind schedule. Their
underwater approach had taken longer than planned, due to
the discovery of security equipment they hadn't been warned
about. It was non-standard - typical gadgeteer work - and
had taken much effort to bypass. Still, their plan included
a margin for unexpected obstacles, and they had time left
before the distraction began. With the heavy growth around
the facility they were within a hundred meters before they
spotted the first guard - and that guard was a shock. They
examined the situation silently for several long minutes.
"I recommend aborting the mission,' the team leader
said, over his radio, to his commander, as they headed back
to the beach. "There's a full T.O.W.E.R. Agents security
team standing guard, including six in Dread Knight armor,
with constant activity in and out, much of it involving
"Understood. Don't leave the island, yet. Stand by.'
A few minutes passed, the team members wisely taking
advantage of the unexpected break to rest and even nap as
they waited in the heavy growth near the ocean. Then the
commander called back.
"There will be an additional diversionary strike near
your target in eight minutes on my mark. Use that to get in
and destroy what you can. Mark.'
"Understood,' said the team leader, hacking his watch
on the mark.
"Just one more to go,' said Junker, quietly, as he
lowered the tertiary power distribution core from the
second-last Myrmidon. "With these out and the batteries
drained, they're now officially mostly harmless.'
The room was chemically lit, by both mantle kerosine
lamps and cold lanterns, with supplemental light sticks used
for close work. The result was an odd mix of cheerful,
nearly white light and eerie orange and green.
As Junker began climbing down from the work platform,
however, a jolt passed through the solid rock the base had
been dug into. He held on until that passed, then rapidly
completed his descent.
"What the Hell is going on out there?! Thurber, go
Alarms began sounding, faintly heard through the closed
double door into the hangar. Junker was very glad they had
disconnected the power and communications lines from the
base into the Myrmidon hangar first thing. Though there was
still a chance all this activity could wake that last one...
"Get that core out of here!' Junker yelled to the tech
who had the component, as he ran to the last machine.
"Steve, help him, then find out what's happening. If it's
something ongoing, get as many powerful supers in here as
you can. And Gadgetive! The rest of you, get the platform
over to that last one!'
*How many have realized that the T.O.W.E.R. Agents are
my tribute to Tower Comics' T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents?
Part Seven: A Corruption of Arms
The attack on the school had begun right on schedule,
the only change being that instead of their long-range
bombardment being directed solely to the Pine and super
bases on the island, about ten percent had pulverized an
innocent section of jungle north of the bunker. This to draw
the attention of those on guard there.
As soon as the missiles started flying, teams left in
submersible assault craft. The timing, like all the plan,
had been worked out in exquisite detail, and was executed
like clockwork. Unexpectedly, though, over half the missiles
were shot down by small rockets, hypervelocity projectiles
and a few energy beams. Those with the farthest to travel -
intended for the patch of jungle near the bunker - had the
highest attrition rate. The attackers weren't sure that any
of them had reached their intended target. And since that
part of the attack had been a last minute addition, there
was no margin in the plan to try again.
"Where are those interceptors coming from?" the task
force commander demanded, watching as most of the missiles
were destroyed seconds after leaving the water.
"Multiple sites, sir! Most from locations not
previously marked as hostile. Our information is that their
defense system is largely offline for upgrading!"
"If this is largely offline..." the commander muttered.
"Advance the schedule on the bombardment. Launch every anti-material missile we have, as quickly as possible! Try to
saturate those defenses. And focus on the primary
objectives; the bunker team will have to make do with what
they already got."
More missiles got through this time, but still fewer
than expected. Because the mechanical defenses were by now
being augmented by supers. The Commander swore softly; the
response time of those inhuman creatures was far shorter
than the plan had anticipated, and they were far better
"Switch the missiles to half anti-super munitions, half
the standard mix."
"Yes, sir. So far, none of the assault teams are
reporting trouble, in spite of the less than anticipated
effect from the bombardment."
"Tell your people to keep track of as many supers as
they can," said the Commander. "We have to keep them off our
One landing team entered the lagoon and went to the old
welcome center. They found it flooded and sealed off from
the rest of the base. After determining that breaking
through the doors would cause only a small section to flood,
and take far longer than the time allocated for their
mission, the members of that team went with their
contingency plan and swam to shore. There they split into
two groups and hurried towards the dormitories.
Another team - specialists all, and including some
personnel augmented by Dr. Hartford - attacked Pioneer
Reserve Facility Delta, the only active super base on the
island. The Pioneers had long been a thorn in the side of
several members of the Zurich Octagon, and even though this
was only a backup facility with civilian staff, hitting it
hard would hurt them. With most or all of those stationed
there going to the aide of the school, the team expected to
cause major damage to the base and its facilities, perhaps
even complete destruction.
The majority of the assault teams headed directly for
the sections of beach closest to the dormitories. They
immediately ran into unexpected opposition. Not only had the
bombardment alerted students and staff that something was
going on, but some of both were unexpectedly nocturnal.
Several men simply vanished, snatched away by something
unseen moving behind or among them. And then they
encountered the real weirdies...
L'il Glomahr made gestures which left tracks of light
in the air, while shouting words which weren't sounds.
Attacker after attacker fell asleep, was entangled in
something unreal, or simply froze in place. Nearby, Wolfman
Mack ushered children out of the girls' dorm towards the
presumed safety of the forest, while also watching the
Bluegrass Elf's back.
Some people - even supers - wake slowly. Some wake
quickly. Among the latter were two flyers, Maldren and
Energia, both of whom went into action wearing only the
essential parts of their costumes: masks and bodystockings.
Maldren, being much faster, was soaring high above the
school when more missiles came in. Several headed directly
for him. He shot two with eye beams, dodged three others,
but got hit by one coming in on the deck and diverting
upwards at the last moment to strike from below.
"First volley of anti-super missiles launched!" the
commander's coordinator reported. "Three direct hits! None
of the targets are destroyed, but all are disabled and
falling. The drug seems to be working."
"Ready the next salvo as quickly as possible."
"MALDREN!" Energia screamed, changing her own climb
into a dive as she saw him drop.
She managed to grab him just above the treetops. He was
unexpectedly heavy, more than she could physically carry,
but she was able to guide them to a rough but safe landing
in the underbrush. The boy was alive and didn't seem hurt,
though he was covered in what appeared to be soot and was
unresponsive. Energia dithered, then quickly hid him under
some bushes and lifted off. Cautiously.
She poked her head out the top of a tree and watched.
More missiles were coming in. She raised her hand and sent a
beam of heat at the closest. She was inordinately pleased to
see it obligingly and promptly explode with a violent
report. Only to spot some of the others immediately divert
towards her. Yelping, she ducked back under the tree and
took off under the canopy at high speed. The subsequent
explosions were relatively minor, but something told her the
effect on supers would be significant. She began dusting the
powder off her arms and hands as she flew, just to be safe,
not wanting to depend on the thin, conforming fabric to keep
it all out.
She could hear more explosions in the distance, about
equal numbers of the sharp bang of an airburst and the
muffled, deeper boom of ground strikes. She wondered how
many people she knew were dying out there... and what she
could do about it.
Energia resorted to a hit-and-run tactic of poking her
head out, zapping the closest missile - varying her type of
attack she used to see which might work best - then ducking
and running. She didn't know how may flying supers were in
the air, or even how many of those missiles she directly
attacked were aimed at supers. At least she was doing
As she flew in a erratic course around the dormitories,
she spotted one of the assault teams. She diverted in their
direction and zapped them with what she called her Swift
Shock. The high-voltage, high-frequency, low-amperage attack
would painfully and effectively stun any unprotected human.
Energia was only mildly surprised when this had little
effect. As they turned their weapons towards her she boosted
her plasma wall and tried to figure out how much more she
could hit them with and not kill them.
However, as her protections absorbed the first of their
shots she noticed a missile diverting down, most likely
drawn by the signature of her strengthened plasma wall.
Energia gave a cry of mixed alarm and annoyance and shot
off, past the team, divesting her plasma wall behind her as
she flew to distract the missile. Not only did this
successfully decoy that attack, the blast knocked down the
The school's defenses were already organizing,
beginning to make a coordinated stand in several areas
around the dormitories. Which was exactly what the attackers
had been waiting for. Small, dense groups outside were far
preferable to two large groups spread through a couple of
buildings and numerous individuals in cottages. Now they
could really start to work.
"Neutralizer teams report ready," said the coordinator.
"Execute," said the commander.
Doomster had begun tipping one of the submarine landing
craft over when a neutralizer team managed to get him in its
sights. The beam from their bulky, crew-served weapon caught
him dead center. He dropped, half in the water, half on the
beach. Fortunately, as the craft rocked back it threw him
clear, and he was face-up so he wasn't likely to drown, but
he wasn't moving...
Energia saw the beam and recognized it from the
school's training sessions. She felt a jolt of fear, which
became a flood of pure rage as she saw others felled by the
beam. This was no gradual build-up, as they had experienced
previously; the shock of the sudden loss of powers was
actually knocking some supers cold, and disabling at least
momentarily all of those hit. Some of the attackers were
already carrying neutralized children back to their landing
craft, where medics waited with autoinjectors, presumably
containing sedatives. She could see other teams using those
neutralizer weapons against the small, dense knots of
defenders and defended, sweeping the beams back and forth
like scythes, leaving fallen supers in its wake.
Energia looked around frantically, and spotted a power
transmission line. She flew over to it and put her hand out,
tapping into it to build a charge more quickly than she
could on her own. Her hovering form began crackling with
energies too much for her to completely contain. The nearest
neutralizer team had noticed her activity and was just
swinging their weapon around towards her when Energia
released the power line let go of the charge, now converted
into something else. A bolt of lightning shot from her to
the power line, blowing the nearest transformer in
spectacular fashion. Smaller bolts jumped between conductive
materials all around the area, some actually stinging people
in their paths. The electromagnetic pulse fried every
unshielded electronic device for two kilometers, and every
shielded one within a hundred meters. The neutralizer died
with a burst of acrid smoke, and the powerpack of the weapon
promptly overheated from the short, spewing boiling
electrolyte on its users.
Energia sagged, dropping lower, her plasma wall
dimming. Then, as the attackers regrouped and began
directing their attentions towards her, she gathered
herself, and dove back among the trees. Once safely under
cover she sat on a tree branch well off the ground and
closed her eyes, but she was doing far more than resting and
recovering. She felt around for the signature she'd detected
from that neutralizer... There! And there! And two more,
there and there! Energia smiled. She knew where they were.
The operators didn't know where she was. She began building
* * *
"Sir! Teams report one neutralizer and significant
amount of other electronics taken out by an EMP! Source not
"Damn! They are willing to sacrifice their own
equipment to take out ours!"
"Maybe not, sir. The EMP was pretty concentrated. It
could have just been focused on... Oh! Another neutralizer
was just taken out by some sort of long-ranged beam attack.
We're trying to find the source, but it's deep in some
pretty dense woods. However, it's not far from the EMP
"That has a priority! Find that source and remove it!
It must be a super!"
* * *
Energia had actually taken out two of the neutralizer
beam canon with that second attack. She had, eyes closed,
aimed each hand at one, fired a quick, hard pulse of EMF,
then quickly moved to a new location.
She was just starting to focus on the remaining cannon
when a massive explosion destroyed her previous perch.
"Yipe!" said Energia, as she realized just how much -
and how desperate - attention was being directed her way.
"Think I'll play possum for a bit."
* * *
The team attacking the Project Standby bunker actually
managed to take out half the unarmored T.O.W.E.R. troops and
three of the Dread Knight suits before being driven back by
the remaining UN peacekeepers and some of the supers working
at the bunker. While the attack on the school and the bases
had drawn off more than half the supers at the bunker, only
two had gone to check the nearby bombardment.
Still, the raiders' mission wasn't to attack personnel,
but to destroy the facility. None of the assault team had
been seriously injured, yet, and they knew a back way in.
Only, when the demolitions team got to the escape
hatch, it had been obviously wrenched completely out of the
frame, then jammed back in place, the gaps sealed with some
sort of filler. The delicate, gloved hands which had done
the work had left clear impressions in the stainless steel.
"Damn!" hissed the lieutenant in charge of the
demolitions team. "Fitz, Cooley, try to blow that open! Rest
of you, keep watch!"
Meanwhile, several of the attackers firing from heavy
cover were surprised to find themselves flanked by a mix of
T.O.W.E.R. Agents and supers. Several were quickly taken
out, most captured alive. The rest quickly withdrew deeper
into the forest.
"They're a mix of US Army Rangers and Marines,' said
Captain Colville, in charge of the UN security force, after
hearing reports on the captures. "Uniforms, equipment,
tactics, language, all point to them being authentic.'
"I'll call my contact in the US military as soon as
we're finished,' said Lady Carver.
They were both inside the force's armored command
vehicle, along with several others members of the UN group.
"Attention US soldiers!' Major Colville announced over
his command vehicle's PA. "You are attacking a US
possession, and a United Nations installation under the
protection of T.O.W.E.R.! Cease fire! Cease...'
The command vehicle took a hit from a mortar round,
knocking out the PA speakers and communications antennas.
Those inside were badly shaken but not seriously hurt.
However, they were now deaf and blind. Colville, swearing
mightily, staggered outside and activated his private com.
"Fear Knight team leader, this is Colville. Is there
any sign the attacking forces are backing off?'
"A few ceased fire briefly, sir,' Lieutenant Hodkings
replied. "They're shooting at us again, now.'
"Then you are authorized for full retaliation!'
"Acknowledged, Major,' Hodkings replied. "Going to full
Within seconds, rockets, mortar rounds and heavy
machine cannon fire were raking the attacking ranks. Thirty
seconds later they ceased. There was, quite simply, nothing
left to shoot at but bare rock and churned soil mixed with
plant and animal bits. Sickeningly, some of those animal
bits were human.
The mortar attack on the command vehicle had been timed
to cover the explosion at the escape hatch. Unfortunately,
that had only served to jam the heavy armor disk deeper into
"Team leader, this is Satchel One. Access negative."
"Roger, Satchel One. Withdraw independently to the
beach. We'll cover and follow."
* * *
"All but two of the neutralizer cannon have been taken
out of action," said the coordinator. "Additionally, we're
receiving multiple reports of supers who are unaffected by
Both those developments were unexpected. The Commander
"What's the prisoner count?"
"Thirty-five drugged and in crawlers. Only five of
those are adults, though."
"It'll have to do," said the Commander, scowling.
"Begin the withdrawal."
* * *
Chet lifted a rock bigger than his head and hurled it
with a grunt. The lump of siltstone shattered on the front
of the landing vehicle, leaving a modest dent. The return
fire glanced harmlessly off something in the air between him
and the attackers. Both the remaining neutralizer cannon had
been pulled back to protect the withdrawal. They fired
repeatedly at the two children on the beach, bathing them in
the eerie glow, to no apparent effect. However, the students
dared not venture beyond that invisible protection. The
operation continued unhindered by the pair's modest efforts.
Supers left stunned or worse by the blast from a
neutralizer cannon were being drugged and loaded aboard the
landing craft as they watched. And they couldn't do anything
about it, not even slow the escape of the kidnapers.
"Dang! Wish my dad was here!"
"Well, he's not," said Glomahr. "And I can't keep this
barrier up much longer. Almost tapped out. Cheiron!"
The centaur youth ran in from the woods and hurled a
huge spear at the vehicle, striking in the center of the
dent Chet had made. The hardened steel head buried itself
deeply into the soft, aluminum alloy armor. This caused no
more than a moment of surprise on the part of the kidnapers.
That, however, was enough. The centaur grabbed both the
others and ran back into the woods with them under his arms,
as the elf's shield spell faded.
"There's only the three of us here," said Chet, as they
reached cover and the centaur put the two of them down. "We
either need to find reinforcements or go help someone else.
Meantime, I can help you recharge, Glomahr."
He put his hands on the tiny elf's shoulder and closed
his eyes, biting his lip from the mental effort. Glomahr
"Oooh! I didn't know you could do that! I can feel my
store of magical energy recovering."
"Shhh! I need to concentrate," said Chet. After a few
seconds he relaxed. "There; that's about all I can do for
"Not full, but that'll help. Thanks."
Cheiron was about to say something when all three
froze. This only lasted for a few seconds. Then Glomahr
nodded, Chet frowned and Cheiron scowled.
"I do not like this plan."
"It gives us a good chance of finding where these
people work out of," said Glomahr, climbing onto the
centaur's back. "That would let us shut them down for good.
I say go with it."
"On three, then," said Chet, preparing himself.
"Three!" yelled Cheiron, leaping forward.
"Hey!" yelled Chet, chasing after him.
The trio of supernaturals tore along the beach, Glomahr
protecting them while they drew fire... and attention.
* * *
"Why the fuck are we taking these kids?!' one corporal
demanded, grabbing the Captain's arm as he echoed a question
in the eyes of many others.
"You remember reading about that court case, where a
bunch of kids were kidnaped and brainwashed into helping the
bad guys? These are some of them. We're taking them back for
"Oh,' said the corporal, releasing the captain's arm.
"No, it's good you asked about that. In all the rush we
didn't have time to explain. And we certainly don't want
anyone thinking we're taking kids as hostages.'
There was nervous laughter from relief among the
troops. All of whom missed the meaningful glance the captain
gave the sergeant.
None of those filing into the landing craft noticed the
shadow among shadows which moved over the pile of
unconscious children in the rear compartment of the vehicle.
None noticed when it left, or that there was now one more
small, still form than they had brought aboard.
* * *
"Over here!" Moondance cried, waving.
She was surrounded by nearly a dozen downed attackers.
Cheiron and Chet ran up to her, realizing that they were out
of the immediate line of fire of anyone left on the beach,
thanks to a handy coral head.
"Did it work?" said Glomahr, as she slid off Cheiron's
"Like a charm," said the vampire girl, flashing a fangy
smile. "With a little luck, we'll have at least three people
in their base within a few hours."
"They should have let some of us go," muttered Chet.
"We've already demonstrated that their neutralizer
doesn't work on us," said Glomahr. "They'd take other
precautions. No, if the plan Eve 'pathed to us is to work,
it'll have to be with them."
"Are you all right?" Chet asked the vampire girl,
noticing her clothing had multiple bullet holes.
"It's nothing," she said, embarrassed. "Though I'm going to need some blood, soon."
"What about these animals?" said Cheiron, coldly,
gesturing at their prisoners.
"No!" said Moondance, firmly. Though she glared at the
men. "No, I still consider them human. Though after seeing
what they did, I might feed on them as a last resort, if it
comes to that."
Chet told himself that was a bluff to intimidate those
prisoners conscious enough to hear. But shivered anyway.
* * *
The last of the attackers to escape jumped aboard the
landing craft even as they moved out, ocean water already
flowing over the lower edges of the vehicles' hatches. The
odd submersibles then made their way along the ocean floor
on tractor treads. Little more than half the attackers who
had gone on the mission were returning, and they were bring
back far fewer than half the number of "rescued" children
planned. Still, they were getting away.
Hugh Manatee and Merma followed, discreetly, and
watched as the landing craft entered a much larger vessel.
Once all were aboard and the hatches closed, the huge
submersible rose off the sea bottom in a cloud of silt, spun
around in place, then shot off at a speed neither of the
aquatic students could match.
* * *
Deep inside the bunker, the last Myrmidon was down to
its last power distribution core.
"Listen!' said one of the techs on the floor. "It's
"That doesn't mean it's over,' said the team leader.
"Everybody not actively working on this thing stand guard in
the corridor. Our guys could have lost.'
"Damn, that was close,' said Junker, as he handed the
last power distribution core to Gadgetive. "That one was
"What could it have done on just batteries?'
"You'd be surprised,' said Junker, completely serious.
"I see someone! Oh, good; it's Lady Carver.'
"Status?' she asked, striding into the room.
"All deactivated," said Junker. "What's going on
"We killed nearly half the attackers, and drove the
rest off,' she said. "Unfortunately, there was also an
attack on the school and they took prisoners, mostly
The cleanup was depressing. Several staff members and
two students were severely injured. Nearly half the UN team
were also out with various hurts, and five of them had been
killed. That there weren't also dead among the students and
staff was due largely to the work of Ettienne and two other
healers on the island. The latter had been added at Eve's
insistence after the white-haired boy had proven the worth
of non-traditional medicine following the last attack. No-one was yet counting the dead among the attackers.
"The hardest part was trying to get the students calmed
down," said Eve. "So we didn't. We put them to work,
patrolling and helping with damage control until they were
too tired to continue."
She gave a those assembled a tight smile.
"I even had several ask if morning classes would be
called off. Think of that. After all that happened to them -
and to us - last night, they thought we might still have
classes. And they weren't asking because they want to skip
school. They want to go after their friends and teachers.
But won't while the school still operates."
"Any word from your plants?" said Lady Carver.
"None. But that's to be expected. They will wait until
they are able to make their move safely."
"Well, I hope they are able to contact us," said Major
Colville. "We have nothing on these monsters. It's not
merely that their craft were stealthy. It's as if our
systems were ignoring them. We have no traces."
"That could well be the case, actually," said Junker.
"That the Combined NATO and UN Military Activity Monitoring
System ignored them, I mean. Everyone we captured and every
body we've found shows them to be US military personnel,
from every service. Obviously, someone high in the
government is backing them, and that support could include
the MYOB codes."
"The what?!" said the Major.
"Lets someone tell the monitoring systems to 'mind your
own business' and not pay any attention to them."
"I didn't... When and how was this instituted?!"
"Later, Major," said Lady Carver, raising a hand.
"Actually, I knew about it, and am surprised you didn't. But
for now this may actually give us a way to find them. If I
recall correctly, the system monitors when and where such a
code is issued."
"You're right!" said Junker, suddenly straightening.
"I'll... uh, contact someone who may know how to get that
information for us."
"Dr. Sutterlin," said Lady Carver, smiling a bit, "do
you think I don't know you helped design the monitoring
"You've got a back door," said the Major, smiling.
"More importantly, do you have a way of issuing that
command without leaving a record?"
"Then we may have a way of approaching whatever
installation these people come from without them noticing,"
said the Major.
"I ask, because there is far more to this than an
attack on the school, or even an effort to enslave young
supers," said Lady Carver. She looked over at Eve.
"Besides our own losses, worldwide there are at least
fifty supers under the age of 25 missing within the past
seventy-two hours," said Eve. "Some are members of
recognized teams; some are independent masks; some are
private citizens. A few of those last weren't even widely
known to be supers until their parents or guardians revealed
this after they disappeared. And this is on top of over a
hundred supers killed, either resisting capture, defending
someone being captured, or deliberately targeted out of the
blue. Our students don't know, yet, that many of them have
lost family, friends and mentors."
"Damn..." whispered Colville. "Someone decided to make
their move, then."
"This is major,' said Lady Carver. She pulled out a
folder and opened it. "We were able to recover the dogtags
from nearly fifty of the attackers. All of them were
confirmed as members of the United States military. Most
were previously reported killed while on active duty, all
within the past six months. A few are supposed to be on
extended medical leave, or on detached duty for cross
"Are you saying that those young men and women we
killed honestly thought...' said Major Colville, looking
"Many of them most likely were innocents who thought
they were serving their country on special duty. Others were
almost certainly in on the deception.'
"So whoever is behind this has much to answer for,"
said Eve, ominously. "I, personally, will aid in the
interrogation of the prisoners. And you can believe that I
will not ask their permission to read their minds."
"Under the Extended Defense Protocols, I declare that
valid," said Lady Carver, flatly. "You and the other
telepaths have free reign. Because not only have these
people arranged for the deaths of innocent people, there are
children's lives at stake."
"Got it," said Junker, looking up from his portable
terminal. "Only... there's nothing there. It's in the
Atlantic, hundreds of kilometers from any land. Not even a
"Then they moved out from their base before using the
codes," said Lady Carver, sighing. "Now, it's all up to our
Part Eight: Turnabout Intruder
The group in the assembly hall was an uneasy one.
Nearly everyone looked exhausted and anxious. Lady Carver
seemed to have more grey in her hair, and even Eve appeared
older, as they stood at the podium. The agitation of the
students didn't help matters.
"I have a list of students and staff who are known to
have been captured," said Eve. "Copies of this and the lists
of those who are simply missing or in the infirmary are
being passed around. If you have a correction tell Andrea
after this assembly."
A slow wave of reaction moved through the audience as
the lists were received and read. This was punctuated by
occasional outcries as a fear was confirmed. Quickly
followed by additional outcries demanding action.
"We have to go rescue her! Them!" said Energia, almost crying, as she saw that Template was among the missing.
Eve sighed and sent her a mental message to be quiet.
For a moment the girl looked like she was going to rebel,
but finally acquiesced, thanks in part to Maldren, fully
recovered from his drugging. Fortunately, many in the
assembly hall were having similar reactions to the
"We are working on this, believe me," she said, aloud
and loudly. "And not just us. T.O.W.E.R. and several other
UN agencies are on the job, as are the CIA, the FBI,
Interpol... We will find our people and we will rescue
"But this was a military action!" said young Lord
Flemming. "Supers are prohibited from participating in
military actions by the Geneva Protocols!"
"Except for those sanctioned by the UN Security
Council, which this definitely will be," said Lady Carver.
"Neither do the Protocols prohibit using powers to defend
against military action. The primary purpose of that treaty
was to make super-human mercenaries illegal. As I recall,
your grandfather had a bit of trouble with that...#"
The young man scowled but remained silent.
"Yes," said Eve, regaining control. "This was a
military action. One in which US troops participated, but
which was unauthorized by the United States government. The
exact situation is currently unknown, but I believe most of
those participants did not know their action was
unsanctioned. So we are giving the United States government
some leeway, here. Several of our military contacts have
already assured us they would not participate in such an
action, that no-one they know among the US military would
willingly take such an action, and that they will help
against those responsible for the acts committed against
both supers and T.O.W.E.R. yesterday."
She heard a bit of a commotion to her right and looked
over to see Junker and his team entering through the side
doors. They looked tired but triumphant, and Junker gave Eve
the high sign. She sagged, just a bit, with relief.
"Now, before we do anything else, I want to get these
At her gesture, gadgeteers and techs began moving
through the assembly, attaching to each person a small
"Normally, these are hideously illegal," said Eve.
"However, in light of the current situation Lady Carver has,
on her own initiative, agreed to their use. These are
That caused a stir!
"To review, when the neutralizer was developed about
ten years ago there was a huge legislative battle between
those who wanted them completely banned and those who wanted
them made universal. This resulted in a very complicated set
of laws laid out in an international treaty. I believe Lady
Carver would be more qualified than myself to explain the
"Basically," said the UN liaison, standing and speaking
without benefit of a microphone, her voice carrying easily
to the attentive occupants of the hall, "only qualified
operators can legally use neutralizers. The devices can kill
supers by cancelling their powers in a situation where not
having them is lethal, and the whole issue of removing
powers without due process is still under contention. The
lawmakers on both sides of the issue, certain that their
work would prevent the misuse of neutralizers, then
proceeded to make any sort of countermeasure strictly
illegal, with severe penalties for possession of even the
"However, there are situations stipulated in the treaty
wherein a countermeasure can be legally used," said Lady
Carver. "That includes mass misuse by a government agency
against supers who are not currently wanted by the law. The
idea being to prevent such things as genocide against
supers. I have ruled - and I do have the authority to do
this - that the situation here is just such a case. So wear
these with an easy conscience."
"The power cells are good for about thirty hours," said
Eve. "You'll get the chargers before they need refilling.
The units can still be used while charging - in fact,
there's no off switch, so they're on as long as they have
power - and have a radius of about three meters. We are
working on a large one for the whole island, but that could
take perhaps two days.
"More good news is that we have nearly two hundred
supers on their way. So many, in fact, that we had to
diplomatically suggest to some of those offering that maybe
they should stay home to prevent a crime wave. Many of these
masks are already on the island, and most of the rest should
be here by sundown. We're quartering them in the old Pine
and super bases. Exactly how they will be used is still to
be determined, but with them here any further attack against
our facility is almost guaranteed to fail, up to and
including a Small Coup or a nuclear strike."
That was met with a cheer, and Eve smiled at the
"So, please, when we're through here, unless you have
some important business, return to your dorms until supper."
* * *
"Gadgetive" crawled slowly through the ductworks. The
kidnapers' procedures were incredibly sloppy, at least in
part because of their unexpected losses. Assuming that any
prisoners in the landing craft had already been sedated,
they didn't even have anyone watching them for unanticipated
activity. Once alone, she had emulated Colossa's shrinking
power and reduced her already small body to less than half
its normal size. This allowed her to hide most effectively
in the hold of the landing craft Moondance had helped her
enter. Once certain she wasn't being observed, she removed
the grill on a vent, squeezed through, and refastened it
behind her. Since she hadn't been counted when the bodies
were loaded into the crawler, no-one noticed she was missing
when the captives were moved to the transport.
Exploring the landing craft, she found it completely
empty but with the controls on standby. She couldn't risk
activating anything to call for help or even find out where
they were going. She did do some exploring and some work on
appropriate tools, using spares from the crawler to augment
her own supplies. Eventually, she became so sleepy that,
reluctantly, she found a hidden place and curled up for a
Hours later she was awakened by the transport docking
and shutting down. She was about to exit the crawler when
she heard the outer hatch open. Hiding quickly, she watched
as a repair crew came aboard and moved the vehicle out of
the transport and into a huge repair bay. They then left,
obviously leaving work on this vehicle for later.
"Gadgetive" very carefully made her way out of the crawler
and into the base's ductwork. These conduits were actually
large enough she didn't need to shrink to fit through.
She hated leaving those kids to be hauled off, but
reason told her this the was the best course. Not only did
she not know where they were, but she could also assume they
were safe for now. Whatever plans the kidnapers had for them
would take a while to put into action, and - being sedated -
they weren't likely to get into trouble on their own
initiative. Meanwhile, she had work to do. One part of that
was exploring the base as carefully as she could.
None of the plants knew who the others were, or even
how many there were. That was deliberate; what they didn't
know they couldn't reveal if captured. But she didn't intend
to be captured.
* * *
Some of the best brains on the planet were storming in
the main conference room of the old Pine base.
"What we have here is several different individuals and
small groups whose activities were previously hampered but
not stopped by masks, and who subsequently joined forces
against a common enemy,' said the Black Mask, as he and the
other analyzers reviewed the data they and the detectives
and spies and seers had uncovered. "The super child slavers.
Carstairs and his supporters. Dr. Hartford and his augments.
"However," said Dr. Gorgeous, "it appears the
masterminds behind all this is a group of mid-level US
Federal government bureaucrats who have somehow arranged to
have themselves put in charge of several significant
projects - black and otherwise - which they then diverted
resources from to further their own purposes."
Lucille Gorgeous definitely violated the "dumb blond"
stereotype. Tall, curvy and with an IQ off the top of the
charts, she also had a perfect memory and could correlate
data more quickly than most computers.
"The ego of these people," said Cabbage Engine, slowly
shaking his head. "No-one gave them this power, their legal
authority is trivial, and they are putting on airs as if
they were real-life versions of the Gnomes of Zurich."
CE's somewhat self-deprecating mask name came with a
brain which was equally good at trendline analysis and
"We can worry about their mental health later," said
Tiger, almost growling. "Right now, we need to figure out
where they are, what they're doing and how they're likely to
react to our actions."
While Tiger lacked the sheer brain power of some of the
others in the room - his IQ was only low-end genius - he was
good at hunches and seeing the overall situation. His
pragmatic approach often helped keep the more intellectual
members on course.
With fifteen super geniuses, Tiger and some high-powered correlators such as the Black Mask, the information
they had was not merely reduced in short order, but analyzed
to within a millimeter of its life. Then, the conclusions
were presented to the tactical geniuses. And a plan shortly
came into existence. A daring plan, one worthy of the third
largest cooperative effort among supers in the history if
* * *
"Excuse me, Sergeant? Where's Corporal Lang?'
"Based on the initiative he showed during the
evacuation, we transferred him for special training.'
"Oh. Thank you, Sergeant,' said the private. "I'll let
the others know. We were just... wondering, you know...'
The sergeant nodded and turned away, barely able to
conceal his contempt. He hated having to lie like this, but
they hadn't weeded out all those like Simon Lang, yet, and
couldn't afford having those traitors to humanity screwing
things up if they discovered the true mission of the group.
Lang, meanwhile, was definitely receiving special training.
* * *
The questioning lasted for hours. Only... they seemed
to just be going through the motions. What they asked made
no sense. Who did he work for, and how had he infiltrated
the group?! He had been invited, and he was a soldier in the
US Army! No matter what he answered they simply continued,
as if the whole verbal interchange were just an excuse to
hurt him. Lang finally resorted to simply giving his name,
rank and serial number, over and over, which served only to
infuriate them. Finally, when he was half dead, they threw
(literally) him in an empty cell. Empty as in completely
bare. He lay, bleeding, on the cold concrete floor, feeling
it draw the heat out of him. Even the odd rattling,
scratching sounds he soon heard didn't rouse him. However,
when a diminutive figure dropped into the cell from a
ceiling vent in the hallway outside, opened the door to his
cell and began checking his injuries...
"You... you're one of... the kids we...'
"Figured out, yet, that they're the bad guys who are
kidnaping young supers?' asked "Gadgetive." She ran a
scanner over him. "They did a professional job on you.
Nothing broken except your nose and a couple fingers, no
serious internal injuries... If I give you some painkillers
and stimulants will you help me take these goons down?'
"H-huh?' said Lang, now even more confused.
"They lied when they recruited you,' said "Gadgetive,"
firmly. "Accused others of exactly what they were doing,
while claiming they were the good guys. But would good guys
do this to you?'
"Good. Now, do you want the shot? There's some small
danger it could kill you, but you're young and healthy.'
"I... if what you say is true, we have to stop them.'
"Which I've been saying.'
"Give me the damn shot.'
Corporal Lang was a lean man, but getting him through
that narrow vent opening was difficult. Still, once through
the vent was large enough for him to move on all fours.
"Gadgetive" had tied a cord to the grill before climbing
out. She used that to pull the metal object within reach,
then refastened it.
"Where are we going?' Lang whispered.
"First, away from the cell block,' "Gadgetive"
whispered back. "Then, well, you tell me. Communications
would be good, so we can call for help.'
* * *
Naturally, they got lost. Partly because "Gadgetive"
got tired of bypassing security sensors in some of the more
important junctions of the ventilation system and insisted
on detours which wound up going the wrong way. However,
during their wanderings they passed the infirmary storeroom
while trying to find landmarks, and - seeing and hearing no-one - decided to make use of the medical supplies to help
"Must be night shift," said Lang, wincing as he dabbed
antiseptic on a split lip.
"Keep quiet, anyway."
They soon had him treated. "Gadgetive" sat him in a
wheelchair and stood on some boxes to look through the
"Big place," she commented. "Don't see anyone except a
few sleeping patients, and they..."
"What?" said Lang, when she stopped.
"I'll be damned,' said "Gadgetive," looking at the
sallow, immobile figure third from her perch. "Storey. Huh.
Guess it's true; nasty friends, nasty end.'
"Who?" said Lang.
"Sicced the Air Force on a friend of mine, just 'cause
he was having fun flying around over a national forest. Not
bothering anybody, not breaking any laws or violating any
regulations. This may explain why the same guy encountered
planes which fired missiles at him a few weeks ago."
"Well, I think I'm oriented, now," said Lang. "You
still want to try for the com center?"
Minutes later they had found the com center. As Lang
had warned her it was staffed even at night. "Gadgetive,"
realizing the two of them were in a fresh air vent, took out
the small tank of anesthetic gas she had found among the
medical supplies, fed the hose out into the room, and
cracked open the valve. Soon the three men were slumped in
"Piece of cake," said "Gadgetive," as she climbed down.
"Well, marble cake."
Before Lang could join her, however, the door opened
and a stun grenade flew through. After that did its work
several men with submachine guns followed, opening fire when
they saw that the intruder spotted on security cameras was
still upright, if appearing a bit dazed. Several short
bursts went in "Gadgetive's" direction, most of the rounds
hitting her small figure.
Except that she didn't go down. Instead, the girl
turned to face those firing at her, a nasty grin on her
face. She expanded, bursting out of her outfit, gaining
"All enemies of freedom are enemies of The
Revolutionary,' the new figure said, darting forward to the
men and cracking knuckles.
Only they weren't her knuckles; she was squeezing their
hands around their guns.
She tossed the disarmed men through the door,
preventing more from entering. Another stun grenade was
simply swatted back out, handball style. Then the
unconscious techs were ejected. Finally, The Revolutionary
forced the door closed, jammed it in the frame and piled
every loose, heavy object in the room in front of it.
"Are you ready for more, citizen?' The Revolutionary
asked, as she pulled Lang from his shelter.
"Wh-what... Who are you?'
"The Revolutionary, at your service,' she replied,
taking tricorne hat in hand to make a graceful, sweeping
bow. "Now, gather your wits. We have much to do.'
"But... you were a little girl!'
"Few know I am, among my many talents, a mistress of
Lang had experienced so many shocks and surprises in
the past day he just let that go.
"Now, soldier, how do I adjust this apparatus to send a
message to the world?'
"That depends on who you want to call,' said Lang,
moving painfully into a chair at the main console.
"T.O.W.E.R., the Intrepids, the Pine Island Academy...
I have their frequencies.'
"That will make things easier,' said Lang, wryly.
* * *
"Why are we just sitting here?!' said Eagle, loudly, as
he paced around the huge table in the command center of the
Pine base. "They've got a bunch of our kids and teachers,
including Template! We have to do something! What are we
Before any of the dozens of masks present in the room
could reply, the visage of the current shift commander in
communications appeared on the main view screen.
"Got something coming in from one of the plants.
Putting it on live, after acknowledging her initial call."
"Attention, all friends of liberty! I, The
Revolutionary, have uncovered a dastardly plot to undermine
the freedoms we fight so hard to retain! A coalition of evil
men and women have conspired to divert the resources of the
United States military - including hundreds of innocent,
duped soldiers - to support a plan to steal children with
super powers and use them against you! Come at once to the
Atlantis Seamount to join the battle against these
The message was repeated, with minor variations showing
that it was live and improvised, then started again, cutting
off in a squawk the third time.
"That,' said Eve, rising.
"The Revolutionary?!' said Lady Carver, startled. "How
did she get involved in this?'
"Template must have decided that since she wasn't
associated with the Academy she wouldn't be watched for or
suspected,' said Eve, making an educated guess. "We can ask
them later. Now, we must strike!'
* * *
"We've been betrayed!' shouted Belleau, over the secure
communications line, something separate from the Seamount
"You've been infiltrated,' snarled Harrison. "One or
more of the captives must have been ringers.'
"What are you two so worried about?' said Brockner. "We
were planning to announce our existence and goals in a few
weeks, anyway. This moves the timetable up, sure, but...'
"You fool!' shouted Belleau. "We'll have to fend off
not only every super able to make it here, but T.O.W.E.R. as
well. Thank God we have some of the Navy on our side.'
"Thank God we're not at that base," muttered Grimes.
"That doesn't help me!" said Belleau, shouting even
louder. "I am here!"
An emphatic chime interrupted them. Harrison answered,
to find the head of the facility where they were meeting on
"Sir,' said the man, saluting as he addressed Harrison.
"Intelligence reports that several naval task forces -
including two from the US Navy - are being ordered to steam
towards Seamount Base at full speed.'
"Hah!' said Harrison. "Three of the closest admirals
and five of the captains are all either allies or known to
hold views sympathetic with ours. With them assisting our
defense, there's no way even all the supers on this planet
can stand against us!'
"Sir you don't understand,' said the coordinator,
sounding hysterical. "They're not calling them in; those men
are specifically omitted.'
"Give me the details.'
"On the way."
A nearby printer tongued out several pages. Harrison
read the document, and sank into a chair.
"Bastards. The Joint Chiefs have ordered those ships in
the Atlantic least likely to join our cause into action
against us. Our known allies and potential allies, even
though closer, are being ordered to stay out of the battle.'
"How did they know?!'
"There must have been more transmissions than the one
we intercepted,' said Brockner. "Private, heavily encrypted
ones, from someone there who was able to access our files.'
"I want all information on this Revolutionary,' said
Harrison. "Who is she? What are her politics?'
"Uhm, bizarre,' said Belleau. "I've been following her
career. She simply appears out of nowhere to champion some
cause. Some are liberal, some conservative, some...
undefinable. Every time, she claims she's defending liberty.
We have no idea of who she is, or where she comes from,
except that her first known action was against the
Specialists, after they had been conned into attacking the
Intrepids' base. Her known powers are eightieth percentile
strength, stamina, resilience and speed, and seventieth
percentile energy projection.'
"What are her weaknesses? How do we get to her?"
"Unknown. There simply isn't enough information on
"Those damn masks!" shouted Harrison. "How can anyone
so paranoid still be running around loose?!"
* * *
"No. No NATO," said General Thorvald, in charge of the
task force which was forming up to assault (if necessary)
the Atlantis Seamount. "Thank them and ask them to stand by
if needed, but for now take no action. We know where the
kidnapers are. We know who they are. We know how many there
are and how they operate. We have a pretty good chance of
containing them, and we definitely have the numbers in our
favor. NATO and UN forces can stand by, and could definitely
be useful in corralling any who escape our net, but they are
not to participate in the assault itself."
"That... is acceptable," said Lady Carver, nodding.
"Just as long as you do your job as well as you say you
"What about the supers?" said Hodgkins, the General's
"Satellite photos show nothing in that area," said the
General, frowning in thought. "They're probably submerged,
most likely built on top of the seamount itself. We don't
have anything armed or capable of carrying assault troops
which can go that deep. Just some special rescue
"So you will need the supers."
"Yes," said the General, reluctantly. "We will need the
* * *
Early the next morning, while the units of the task
force were still joining up as they headed for the target, a
special assembly was held in the school's auditorium. They
were a quiet and somber group, for many reasons. There was a
good chance many of them would be killed in this effort, or
forced to kill to protect themselves, teammates or children.
And if things went very wrong all the children could be
killed. Eve spent some time silently evaluating the group,
"We have a plan. We are in the process of putting it
into action. Before we go too much further, however, I have
someone who wants to address you."
They watched, most of them puzzled, as a man in
clerical collar rose and took Eve's place at the podium. At
first glance he was aged, even infirm. But once he began to
speak his elderly frame straightened, and there was a fire
in his voice, a light behind his eyes. A whispered name
spread through the hall: The Deacon.
"Some have objected to our participation in today's
activities," said the man, voice strong and clear. "They
claim that supers have no business joining a military
operation. Supers have rarely been used in war for much the
same reason nuclear weapons have rarely been used in war.
Once you start, how do you stop? But what we do today is not
a military operation. It is a police operation, a cleanup of
a corrupt group who have suborned civil and military
resources of the United States.
"It is also a rescue operation. We go to rescue our
coworkers, our friends, our family... our children. We go to
rescue them from those who have so little regard for any
lives but their own that they trick the innocent into
sacrificing themselves to protect those who have betrayed
them. Who have so little regard for any freedoms but their
own that they would enslave others to make their lives
"Finally, we go to seek justice for those who are not
here today, either because they have been captured, or
killed, by these same cowardly, greedy people.
"Have no doubts. What we intend to do today is in the
cause of right. It is up to us to make certain that the
final result is not invalidated by actions on our part, on
the part of those in the military who will be aiding us, or
on the part of those whom we fight against. Go with strong
hearts and clear minds."
#Richard Flemming is essentially the grandson of his
world's James Bond.
Part Nine: The Parting of the Sea
Even the kidnapers wouldn't keep children unconscious
through strong sedatives long-term. Shortly after the
transport arrived at Seamount Base the prisoners were moved
to several barracks, each equipped with wide-beam
neutralizers flooding the whole room, checked to make sure
none had been overdosed or were having a reaction, then left
to wake on their own. The captors made certain there was at
least one adult from the school in each room. As soon as the
group working a particular barracks left, Coach Able Tyler
opened an eye and carefully surveyed the situation.
So far, so good. He was certain there were monitoring
devices in here, though, so once he had a plan he needed to
put it into action quickly. For now, he waited.
* * *
The kids were just starting to stir when the alarms
sounded. That was what Coach Tyler had been waiting for.
Quickly, he bolted off his bunk and ran to the door - the
only door - and began examining it. Not only was it securely
locked, but neither lock nor latch was not accessible from
"Someone thought this through," Coach muttered sourly.
He began stacking empty bunks in front of the door. It
opened inward, so the frame rather than the lock would take
the brunt of any physical attempt to break out. Which made
keeping the door closed easier for him. He stacked three
bunks horizontally, one on top of the other. Then he began
removing the legs from other bunks and using them to brace
between the bottom bunk at the door and the floor. It wasn't
perfect, but for now it would do.
* * *
"Sir, three of the four bunkrooms we're using for the
prisoners have had their doors barricaded from the inside."
"Which means they can't get out to help their friends,"
said the head of security. "Don't bother me with that now!
As long as those neutralizers stay on those freaks are the
least of our problems."
* * *
He ghosted through walls, occasionally seen but not
really believed. He excused his lack of action by telling
himself he was scouting, but he knew he was just reluctant.
He hadn't played hero - well, not counting that one boy he'd
helped a few months back, and the occasional anonymous good
deed - in nearly twenty years. He'd thought he was over the
trauma which had made him hang up his public career, but he
kept thinking he should do something, maybe disarm the
soldiers he saw, then shying back. Soon, though, he'd be
faced with the choice of possibly hurting a bad guy or
letting a child be harmed. He was determined not to balk.
* * *
The waters were dead calm, thanks to Weather Warper. No
ship was within five kilometers of the undersea base, partly
to reduce the chance of early detection, but mostly because
the plan needed room. The supers were assembled on the
flight decks of two different aircraft carriers. There were
"I have to admit," said Admiral Naismith, "this is the
most unusual action I've ever taken part in."
The Admiral was a short, stocky man with grey hair. He
projected an air of calm competence and brought a
businesslike approach to the situation, seasoned with a bit
of humor. Where most of the personnel on the ship treated
their odd guests with reverence or suspicion, he was
courteous and respectful, while not hesitating to express
his own opinions or ask perhaps awkward questions.
"Our best brains and your best brains agree this is the
most practical approach," said the Black Mask. "That is,
unless you want to try and shuttle half a dozen men down
there at a time in the only submersible you have on hand
which can reach that deep, or wait for more deep boats to
"Oh, I'm not challenging the plan," said Naismith.
"Just marveling at the sheer audacity of it."
"Audacious actions often require an audacious
* * *
"Damn it! There's no way we can fight off that many!
Not only do we not have the physical resources, too many of
our people would twig to the fact that we're not legit!"
The Assistant Chief Tactical Officer of the Atlantis
Seamount Base was one of the few women of authority there.
Many in the conference room had been convinced she was one
too many even before she began this defeatist tirade.
"We don't need to attack them," said General Hudson.
"They need to attack us. And they can't reach us. Even their
depth charges won't work this far down."
"And the infiltrators?"
"What harm can three supers and some mutineers do?"
"Just in case, though, I recommend preparing to
evacuate important personnel through the old Sub-Teran
tunnel," said the Chief Tactical Officer.
"There's only one person on this base I want to see
evacuated," said Hudson, sourly. "And given that he's been
pestering me every three minutes for updates I think it's
past time he went."
"Colonel," said the Chief Tactical Officer, looking at his Assistant, "you will escort Mr. Belleau to the elevator."
She saluted and left. General Hudson nodded covertly to
the Chief Tactical Officer; that got the woman and her
morale-breaking attitude out of the command center for a
* * *
"This isn't fair, this isn't fair," said Thurlough,
murmuring quietly to himself as he rocked back and forth,
arms wrapped around his knees.
Coach Tyler couldn't help but feel sorry for the boy.
Zapped with a neutralizer, drugged, kidnaped, hauled away to
a place they still knew almost nothing about. Now he was
awake with a sedative hangover, still under a neutralizer
and crowded in a prison with people who, at best, barely
"I can't tell you much," said Tyler, after properly
assembling the students... well, those physically and
mentally active enough for that. Some were still in their
bunks or, like Thurlough, huddled somewhere. "They're sure
to have this room bugged. But it's an even surer bet those
alarms mean at least someone from the school got lose is not
only is still out there, raising mayhem, but has probably
already called in the cavalry. So we sit tight, and wait
* * *
"This is bad," said the POTUS, leaning over his Oval
Office desk, head in hands as he skimmed the report. "Really
bad. As bad as the time China managed to launch an Orion
without anyone having a clue they were even working on one."
"Ah, Mr. President, that was a movie," said Abner
Prescott, his chief technical advisor.
"And who let them make a show about it when it should
have been a national secret?! Anyway, stop changing the
subject. How can we cover this up?"
"Uh, we can't. Several news agencies already have
learned about the attack on the school, and two have people
on the ships involved in the rescue who are reporting live."
"Who authorized that?!" Thurlin demanded. "Dammit! This
is not the time or place to show initiative! Those TV people
should know to wait for us to give the high sign in
situations like this!"
"I'm certain they know we would want them to," said
Vice-President Gould, over the TV conference hookup, from
where he had been sequestered in a secret bunker for the
duration of the crisis, as policy required. "Of course,
since we have no direct authority over the press, they have
no obligation to follow our wishes."
"Well, whose idea was that?!" said the POTUS, not quite
pouting. "Anyway, we'll deal with them later. For now, we
need to get our word out, to counter this reckless
"We're working on that, Mr. President," said Thurlin's
press secretary. "We have good deniability on this action
and the people and resources behind it."
"There are people who would say we have good
deniability on everything," said Gould, dryly.
"Good, good," said Thurlin, nodding eagerly. "We can
spin this in our favor, I know we can. We'll blame it all on
the supers. And say we knew nothing about any of this until
they started trouble."
"And since we didn't know anything about it we might
even get away with it," said Gould. "Of course, that begs
the question of why we didn't know anything about it."
* * *
Crawling through ducts just hadn't been practical after
The Revolutionary had revealed her presence in the base. For
one thing, she'd lost the only clothes she had small enough
to fit Gadgetive's form. For another, her companion wasn't
doing too well. The drugs were wearing off and she didn't
dare give Corporal Lang any more just yet. Currently, she
was half carrying him.
She stopped short of yet another junction and carefully
set him against the wall. The Revolutionary took a deep
breath, straightened and strode boldly into the
intersection. The men manning the hurriedly-placed defenses
were surprised. They were also professionals. They fired
anyway. The sickly mauve beam from the neutralizer washed
over the striking female figure standing before them.
The Revolutionary simply smiled. Because one of the
things she had done while pretending to be Gadgetive was
build a counter to the nullifier effect. It wasn't a hundred
percent effective, but that still left her with plenty to
handle any measures they'd dare use inside their own base.
It was personal only, of course, but from what Eve had told
her in those frantic minutes the principal had used to
organize her plan, the other adults who had snuck in didn't
need such protection. And The Revolutionary certainly didn't
want any of the students involved in this fight. And they
would get involved if they could get out of their cells,
which having their powers would allow. No, far better they
stay safely locked up.
The men with the nullifier were surprised when their
target calmly marched to them and swatted their ultimate
defense against supers aside. In seconds they were either
unconscious or fleeing.
"Damn, I hate to see that," said Lang, as he leaned
over and peered around the corner. "I know these guys. I'm
pretty sure they'd all help you if we could just explain how
they'd been duped."
"I'm going easy on them," said The Revolutionary,
reassuringly. "Don't worry; I will save my full wrath for
those behind the deception."
* * *
Deep under the base, Belleau stepped from the elevator
into the Sub-Teran tunnel and looked for his ride. Which
wasn't there. The man was baffled. He knew he'd left the
thing right here! It was automated, so it wasn't like the
pilot had turned coward and fled. Uncertain, he moved a
little further into the tunnel and looked around some more.
Because he knew it had to be there!
The elevator doors closed behind him, cutting off the
light. Belleau fumbled in his pocket and pulled out his
keychain, shining the puny flashlight from that around to
cut a dim swath through the absolute darkness and stillness.
Still no transport. Fuming, he went back to the elevator and
pushed the button.
He still wasn't feeling any fear, yet, though he was
sliding from outrage towards concern. Had some coward
fleeing from the base stolen his transport, and now the
controllers above thought he had left already?
He stood, waiting for someone to notice him pushing the
* * *
Another corner, another nullifier. Only, before The
Revolutionary could reach it, a powerful stream of water
struck her ample chest. Two more quickly joined the first,
shoving her back, then over. Besides positioning fire hoses,
someone had greased the floor. The Revolutionary found
herself tumbling, and slid hard up against a wall.
The Revolutionary felt like she was in a Three Stooges
movie. She could stand - with effort - but anything more
resulted in an instant fall. She would not make any progress
away from the wall unless she wanted to put most of her
power into flight. Which would leave her vulnerable even to
the small arms her attackers carried. She tried to move
sideways, but they had planned well; she was in a cul-de-sack, with walls close by on either side. The neutralizer
countering device was tucked inside the rear of her
waistband and intended to be pretty rugged. But not
waterproof. She began to worry, and reached for her pistols.
A man in civilian clothes walked down the corridor to
The Revolutionary's right, passing the seated and worried-looking Corporal Lang. He paused at the junction to examine
the situation. And sighed.
"Ah, well," said the stranger, stretching. "Suppose
it's time to break cover."
There was an odd, green shimmer, and he changed. The
same height, now, but leaner, finer, with pointed ears and
triangular face, and long, green hair. His eyes were also
green, so green they seemed to glow.
They swung their guns at him... and the weapons fell
apart, even as the streams from the fire hoses faded. The
green-haired man gave them a sad smile. He raised his closed
hand and opened it. Dozens of screws and other small parts
streamed to the floor.
"TenBroek himself could not catch me. Surrender."
"The Prince of Speed*," breathed The Revolutionary.
"Indeed," said the elfin man, nodding to her. "And it's
long past time I returned to the larger world. Starting with
here and now."
"You should start with protecting the children," said
The Revolutionary, bending to gather her hat. "I thank you
for the help, but they need it more."
He nodded and... blurred, vanishing. Moments later, the
lights flickered. There was a distant rumbling. Ears popped
as pressure in the base fluctuated. The Revolutionary
laughed. She turned to the disarmed men and smiled, cracking
her knuckles. Each sounded like a rifle shot. Still smiling,
she started towards them.
* * *
On the surface, an interesting application of thinking
outside the box was taking place.
Gravimetric, Divider, Force Master and a number of
gadgeteers deployed directly over the location of the base,
flying through various and sundry means. Beams, planes and
fields of force pushed down, moving the water back. In under
a minute the deep peak of the seamount was exposed to air
for the first time in its long existence. They were
surprised to see no artificial construct, and after a quick
consultation pushed the water lower. There, further down the
flank of the normally submerged mountain, they saw it. With
the base uncovered the supers spread outwards, slowly,
moving the water before them. They pushed it out as far as
they safely could, and held it.
Then came the cold. A cold so deep and terrible
anything capable fled before it. The ocean crackled into
ice, forming a tube with a wall only a few meters thick at
the top but growing progressively wider with depth, to hold
back the weight of the sea. This came from a combination of
a larger version of Thurlough's heat remover and similar
devices, the weather control powers of Cyclone Ranger and
three others, and the powers of two ice manipulators. The
latter made certain to sculpt a pair of spiraling ramps
going down at a steep angle from the surface to the roof of
the base, with a curved lip at the outer edge for safety. As
a final flourish they raised the top of their ice tube to
minimize water spillage, and installed stairs over this in
two places for access to the ramps.
Then, while the force users and ice manipulators stood
by in case the ice cracked, everyone else in a costume began
making their way down, into the base. Most simply slid...
* * *
"That... That's not possible!" said General Hudson, as
he stared at the display.
"We're talking about people with super powers," said
the Chief Tactical Officer, sourly. "Of course it's not
"I hate to do it, but... we'll contact them and claim
their actions are endangering the children."
"Won't work. They believe - with justification - that
the children are already in danger. We'd have to actually
threaten the children directly - on screen - for them to
"I, I can't do that!" said the General, looking
The Chief Tactical Officer moved his eyes a bit to one
side to meet the gaze of the head of security. Who nodded,
"I'm sorry, sir," said the Chief Tactical Officer,
folding his hands. "We have no choice."
The head of security quietly drew his pistol and aimed
at the back of the General's head.
* * *
"Sir?" said a lieutenant to Admiral Naismith. "Getting
a transmission from the base. Sound and video."
"Put it on channel three," said the Admiral.
Besides Naismith and the Captain and the regular staff
of the aircraft carrier the Admiral was using for his
flagship, the Combat Information Center also contained the
best data analyzers and tacticians from among the supers.
They were clustered around the Admiral's position.
The Admiral switched the large display across from his
seat to channel three, where he and his guests could all see
what was happening. On the screen appeared a tall, broad-shouldered man in early middle age and wearing a US Air
Force uniform. He looked grim. And maybe dyspeptic. There
appeared to be several small, hastily cleaned stains on his
"You will cease this unlawful attack on a sovereign
property of the United States of America at once!" said the
Chief Tactical Officer, looking stern and disapproving. "We
will not hesitate to use any means necessary to defend this
base against the actions of inhuman aggressors and their
He nodded to someone offscreen. The view switched to a
hallway, most likely via a security camera. A row of sturdy
doors could be seen on each side. Armed men in body armor
made their way double-time into the field of view.
"We had hoped to condition these creatures to make them
assets to society," said the same voice. "Now, you force our
hand. Withdraw immediately, or they will be..."
The door to one cell crashed silently open, and a woman
in leather jacket, scarf and mask jumped into the hall. She
shoved the door closed, then jammed something into the lock,
before turning towards the soldiers. She was smiling. It
wasn't a pleasant expression.
The camera switched off quickly, but not before the
images showed Blue Impact leaping down the hallway towards
the security forces who had been sent to threaten the
"Signal lost, sir."
"How long until your people are in the base?" the Admiral asked the nearest brain.
"They're already in. And I do mean the assault team,
and not just our plants. They've forced two entry points and
are working on a third."
"Excellent. Did anyone recognize that madman?"
There was a chorus of negatives.
"Oh, well; probably someone unimportant except in his
own mind," said Admiral Naismith. "Let me know when each
objective is secured, please. The children, communications,
"Team two just made contact with one of our plants,"
said Dr. Gorgeous, a hand to her left ear. "He's going to
lead them to the children. Says he's already found The
Revolutionary. She's okay. And has made contact with someone
from the US military who confirms that many of those in the
base were deceived into thinking this was a legitimate
covert operation of some sort."
* * *
The taking of the base was more of a cleanup than an
assault. Word had been spreading among the troops that the
situation wasn't what they had been told, and like all good
soldiers they were asking questions... and passing rumors.
Being informed General Hudson was unavailable to meet a
delegation from among the troops only fueled talk that he'd
been shot. The response of their superiors to their
questions and protests reinforced that this was not a
regular military operation; several men were beaten, and two
were killed. To the surprise of those now in charge of the
base, this did not force obedience, but rather sparked
rebellion. By the time the supers reached the children, half
the troops in the base were holed up, sitting tight until
they could find out the truth about what was happening. A
few were actively fighting against those running the base,
adding to the confusion.
The supers found themselves having to discern between
those who were an active and knowing part of the base's
operations, and those who had been duped. Two things helped
them resolve the problem: those who had been duped
surrendered quickly and asked what was going on; and there
were five telepaths among the supers, as well as two who
could otherwise determine when someone was being truthful,
one of those being Tiger.
The command center fell last. And when the supers
finally broke in they found all inside dead or severely
injured. Some by their own hands, some by the hands of their
leaders. The body of General Hudson was found stuffed in a
"The children are already being ferried up to the
surface," Dr. Gorgeous reported. "The gadgeteers down there
say they can make enough repairs in the time we can maintain
the ice barrier to keep the base from flooding when that is
collapsed, so we can investigate more thoroughly later."
"Excellent," said the Admiral. "Tell them to save as
many lives among the staff as they can. Not only do we need
information they have to find out who was behind this, but
they shouldn't be allowed to escape justice."
*Inspired by Mike Jittlov's Wizard of Speed and Time
short subject, but nothing like him except for being fast
and green. :-)
Part Ten: Back to School
"Eve located me shortly after the trouble with
HyperManic," said the Prince, his casual manner belying his
exotic appearance. The innocuous apparel he had worn at the
enemy base had been replaced with green-themed elfin
garments. Except for his footgear. Those were incongruously
still high-performance running shoes. He shrugged, his long,
green hair dipping down his back and rising again. "We spoke
about me joining the school, and I found her offer
interesting, but decided to wait until the next school year
to start. I wanted to close out some personal matters
meanwhile. When she called me about the assault I agreed to
help. And the rest is, well, the rest. My powers are
supernatural, so I wasn't affected by the neutralizers. I
just hid among the captives in my mortal guise and bided my
The meeting was actually more of a wind-down social
event than a formal debriefing; that had been held aboard
the President Regan. School staff and allies were simply
standing or sitting in the teachers' lounge and talking,
catching up on things and answering questions.
"No, I can't tell you where I was," said Template, in
response to a question from Eagle. "It was legit, though.
Ask Eve or Andrea."
"My powers are pretty minor," said Coach Tyler, to
someone who wanted to know why he'd been picked for the
infiltration process. He smiled. "I was the toughest kid in
my school even before they activated, I stay in excellent
physical condition, and I teach self defense. So once
Moondance got me on board I just played possum until it was
time to act."
"Actually, I wasn't part of Eve's plan," said Blue
Impact. "Didn't even know about it until later. When I
realized I was endangering students by fighting back after a
group of us were hit by a neutralizer, I played possum, too.
Though I almost broke out laughing when they had so much
trouble carrying me into the boat. Took four of 'em."
"You weren't affected by the neutralizer?!" said
Template, not only curious but attempting to escape
"My strength, speed and resilience don't come from my
powers," said Blue Impact, with a bit of smugness. "They
come from the changes my powers made in my body. I'm not at
my peak under a neutralizer, but I'm still superhuman. And
once I was out of the cell it all came back, including my
Due to the strain of the past thirty hours people
didn't stay long. In fact, some started drifting out less
than half an hour after the meeting started, once they
realized it was neither urgently important nor mandatory.
When they were down to just a handful of diehards, Eve
chased them away, telling them to go get some rest. All but
Template and Andrea.
"...so when Eve told me her plan, I flew to Gadgetive's
quarters, changed into her and put on one of her spare
outfits. Moondance didn't know who I actually was; she just
picked me up where Eve told her to, and clouded the
kidnaper's minds to provide cover while we snuck on board.
Inside the base, when I knew the game of pretending to be
Gadgetive was up, I realized if I simply changed back I'd be
naked, since my costume was on the roof of the dormitory. So
I changed into The Revolutionary instead.'
"You have too many identities," said Andrea, scowling.
"Well, in this case she used them well," said Eve.
"Having two supers not known to be associated with the
school - his highness and The Revolutionary - participate in
the rescue should keep both our enemies and the simply
curious confused as to what actually happened and who
actually did it."
"Right now I don't need any help being confused," said
Template, fighting a yawn. "I do want to say, though, that
sneaking around that base as a teenage girl made me feel
more vulnerable than ever before in my life."
She shivered, and not delicately.
"Welcome to the real world," said Andrea, with feeling.
"Some of those tricked into joining that base's
compliment still think it was a legitimate operation," said
Eve, "and that we're - even the US Navy and Marine personnel
who are holding them - all traitors. I've heard that even
some personnel at various levels in the administration who
were supplying support for the base were likewise duped, and
still confused about the reality of the situation. This will
take a long time and much work to straighten out."
"All the more reason to not worry about it now," said
Template, hinting even more strongly.
"All right, go to bed," said Eve, smiling. "Just
remember, while we didn't have classes today, we will have
them tomorrow. And do not try to fly home in your condition!
Use the guest cottage."
"No objection from me," said Template, standing and
heading for the door.
* * *
Others, meanwhile, were not able to delay dealing with
the aftermath of the kidnapings and rescues.
"My daddy used to have a saying," said Admiral
Naismith. "'You can build your fence bull strong, horse high
and pig tight, and the goats will still get out.'"
"So how many do you think actually got away?" said Rear
"According to the surviving staff members, none, except
for some guy named Belleau. Who, naturally, is the brains
behind the entire super slavery ring."
"I thought that was Roger Skreigh and his crew, under
orders from Armistead Carstairs," said Jones, with a grimace
"Turns out Skreigh was in charge of just one branch of
a much larger operation. This Belleau guy suggested
Carstairs create an organization to handle young supers,
making the Congressman think the whole thing was his idea.
Once Carstairs put Skreigh in charge of that, Belleau
quietly got Skreigh to tie his effort into the main one,
without Carstairs knowing anything about it. Belleau is a
real piece of work, and not just in the way he manipulates
and deceives people. He's a convicted child molester and
rapist, and he's really into dominance and subjugation, the
non-consensual kind. Even the people in charge of the base
didn't like him, felt he was bad for their cause. We don't
have any photos of the man but we do have a good
description, and Interpol is working up a composite from
"And those missing who aren't supposed to be?"
"Most of one entire section, run by Dr. Eugene
Hartford, who is also missing. Fifteen people, at least ten
of whom are artificial supers."
"He's supposed to still be in prison, of course."
"We think the Dr. Hartford behind bars is actually one
of DoppelMeister's duplicates."
"Great," said Jones, sighing and rubbing his hair in an
expression of combined aggravation and tiredness. "At least
we know how they got away. And that this group is using the
old Sub-Teran tunnels. But searching those..."
"Actually, the Pine Academy was already working on
accessing those for transportation and communication. Their
gadgeteers tell me it will require only a simple
modification for their equipment to detect movement in the
tunnels. Which they'll happily notify us of."
"Huh. That'll be a big help. And I can certainly
understand why they'd want to give it."
He shook his head, and resisted an urge to rub it
again. He was getting too old for these long sessions.
"Well, I think that's all we can do for now. I'll keep
you apprized of any developments. You let me know if you
learn of anything more of importance, or receive any more
* * *
With classes cancelled for the day - the second in a
row - and the emergency over, students and staff began work
on repairs that afternoon. With gadgeteers helping, this
also meant considering improvements. (Well, the non-gadgeteers considered them; the gadgeteers figured it was
obvious to everyone this was too good an opportunity to
"I'm telling you, this will make things a whole lot
easier than just putting things back the way they were!"
said Gadgetive, hands on hips and staring up at Eagle like a
feisty Bantam hen.
She was promoting a major change to the wiring of the
girls' dorm, which she claimed would improve online
connection speed 300%, reduce power consumption and help
cool the building.
"And I'm telling you to get all changes approved before
installing them," said Eagle, standing firm. "I not
qualified to do that, so you'll have to find Junker or one
of the engineers."
"But by that time you'll have this rebuilt!"
"Tough. We need to get this place fit to live in by
tonight, so folks can get back in their rooms."
"Men!" shouted Gadgetive, spinning around and marching
off, arms thrown up in disgust.
"Catch the piano!" someone yelled from above.
Eagle spun around and saw a badly damaged upright
coming out of a hole in the wall. From the second floor. He
yelped and jumped out of the way.
A force beam shot down from the sky and enveloped the
instrument, stopping its plunge just short of the concrete
back porch, then moving it to one side and lowering it
gently to the lawn.
"Watch it, Allessandra!"
"What? He's strong and tough. He should'a caught it."
"With warning, yes. Maybe even without hurting myself.
But not cold like that," said Eagle, irritated and showing
"Sorry," said Allessandra, not quite sincerely.
"That's not good enough! You didn't do anything during the attack but hide, and now you're trying to kill one of the teachers! Whose side are you on?!"
"What the fuck's that supposed to mean?!" said
Allessandra, screaming, face red, as she launched herself at
Energia. "What was I supposed to do? Get killed for
"You call that NOTHING?!?!" screamed Energia, hitting
her with a force bolt which knocked her into - and back out
through the side of - a dumpster.
"THAT'S ENOUGH!!" yelled Eagle, putting himself
between the two girls, as the stunned Allessandra tried to
get back to her feet. "Energia. Go to your room and stay
there until I come for you!"
The girl scowled, but flew off. Eagle dropped down to
check on Allessandra.
"Go 'way," she said, sobbing.
"I'm taking you to the infirmary."
Eagle scooped her up and flew off.
* * *
"Her injuries were minor, fortunately for both of you,"
said Template, staring at Energia.
The two of them, plus Eagle, were in Template's office.
"The standard penalty for this sort of fighting is a
week of detention for each blow or blast, plus repairing the
damage. In this case, because of mitigating circumstances,
you'll only do the latter. But if you get in another fight
any time soon the standard penalty will be doubled. If it's
with Allessandra it will be quadrupled. Allessandra gets no
punishment, because you blasted her before she actually did
anything but fly towards you and yell insults."
"Yes, ma'am," said Energia, somehow managing to look
both rebellious and subdued at the same time.
Template sighed, and looked up at Eagle. Who also
"Energia," he began. He stopped, thought for a moment,
and tried again. "You've been one of our best students, in
many ways. Allessandra was a problem at first, but has since
improved a lot. I know she's still not completely with the
program, but she is getting better. Try to cut her some
"Some people just aren't meant to be heroes," said
Template, firmly. "Yes, she hid and didn't fight. So did
about a third of the other students and even some of the
faculty. Don't consider her less of a person for that. She's
only had half of one semester of training, plus a year and a
bit with the Young Rebels, who aren't known for providing
either formal training or challenging missions. She just
doesn't have the mindset, or the skills."
"That's not why," said Energia, petulantly.
"Why you attacked her?"
The girl nodded, chewing her bottom lip.
"She's just so... stuck up, and lazy, and... just
doesn't get with the program."
"And, as I just said, she's improving," said Eagle,
sternly. He softened a bit. Energia was one of their best
students, and definitely hero material. She just had to
learn not to apply her own standards to everyone else who
happened to have powers. "Give her some time. She didn't
have a nice family like you have. She's almost an orphan,
and has been fending for herself for three years with no
real preparation on how to do that. Just... If you don't
like her, avoid her."
* * *
"I was so worried about you!" said Karen, after
greeting Randy with a passionate hug. "I couldn't even go on
the rescue mission. The Black Mask made most of the veteran
team members stay here."
"Good idea, probably," said Randy, satisfied to just
stand there, holding her, for a while. "And that wasn't just
true with the Intrepids. With the other attacks on supers
and such, keeping a seasoned group from each team on standby
in their bases was definitely a wise plan."
"So, how are you? And how is Energia?"
"Still tired. Still spooked. And I guess that applies
to both of us, as well as everyone else on the island."
"I figured as much." She grinned, hugged him briefly,
and gave him a kiss. "I planned for us to just stay in all
evening. Watch some comedies, have a good, home-cooked meal
and get to bed early. No news. No calls from the Intrepids
or the school except in case of dire emergency."
"Right now," said Randy, with feeling, "that sounds
very good, indeed."
* * *
"I wonder how he's going to reinterpret reality this
time," said Glomahr, as students and teachers gathered in
the dorm's common room to watch a special announcement from
The program began with the usual announcements and
opening ceremonies. Then a very determined-looking Thurlin
(Well, he considered his expression determined-looking.
Others joked he looked constipated.) walked to the podium.
"There has been a very serious event in the Atlantic,"
he began. "A group of rogue supers, pretending to be from a
school, kidnaped a bunch of children and tried to brainwash
"WHAT!?!?" chorused the audience.
"It was only through the brave efforts of members of
the armed forces of the United States that these, these...
super villains were brought to justice, and the children
"Of all the stupid..." began someone, who was
"We have now learned that these people are operating
out of a small island nation near Bermuda. A place they call
Atlantis, after the old Greek myth."
"What is he talking about?!" said Allessandra, shrilly.
"This will not be tolerated. These people will be
hunted down, their assets seized, their captives released
and deconditioned to be returned to a free society."
"Nobody's trying to stop him," said Rubber Made,
faintly. "Usually, when he gets really stupid like this, one
of his people or maybe a reporter breaks in."
"He fired all of 'em," said Glomahr, dryly, as Thurlin
shuffled papers, looking a bit lost. "The reporters, too.
Which his staff interpreted as meaning he wanted the press
people who made corrections or asked questions banned from
The President gave up on searching through his notes
and looked directly at the camera, scowling.
"As of now I am declaring martial law throughout the
United States and declaring war on the inhabitants of this
island. Just so you know how your tax dollars are being
spent. We expect a quick and decisive victory."
He turned and walked off without taking questions.
* * *
"You can't have heard that right," said Admiral
"That's exactly what he said. Don't you get satellite
TV on that ship?"
"Yes, we do, but I don't watch TV. I'll ask if any of
my staff saw the broadcast, but I can assure you that no
such orders were received on this ship."
"That's a relief," said Eve, "but only a small one. You
could have been deliberately excluded, due to your
participation in the real operation, as opposed to the
fictional one the President is promoting."
"Nothing's come in over the grapevine," said Naismith.
"I'll do some checking, though, and let you know."
* * *
"Not a word," said Velocirapper, who had been busy
checking his information network about the matter. "Not a
peep. Not a whisper. It's as if everyone else in the
administration is pretending the President didn't even make
that announcement. No martial law put into effect, no
"I really hope you're right," said Doomster. "'Cause,
damn, I don't want to fight the whole US Navy."
"Listen, he couldn't get away with it," said
HyperManic, confidently. "The news about the kidnapings was
out more than a day before his speech, and the news about
the rescue more than ten hours. It was all over, including
most of the cleanup, before he ever went on the air! There's
no way he could justify martial law or a military operation,
'cause there's nothing left to do but detective work!"
"I doubt that would stop him," said Blue Blazer, dryly.
"But his advisors make sure his stupidest orders don't
actually get passed on."
"I wish they wouldn't," said Bobby Double, muttering.
"There was already serious talk of impeachment in Congress
before this speech. There's more, now. If he'd actually made
people suffer under martial law, and sent the fleet to
Atlantis - which doesn't exist - or the Atlantis Seamount -
which does, but is too deep for them to reach - they might
actually do something beside talk."
* * *
"Sixteen fights," said Eagle, tiredly. "Some of them
with injuries justifying an overnight stay in the hospital
for observation. None of them turned out to be serious,
fortunately. Also, while students have yelled at teachers,
none have attacked adults. Though there have been some
skirmishes among the adults."
"That's all to be expected," said Eve, with a shrug.
"People who have been under stress need to blow off steam.
When the people involved are supers, those blow-ups can
approach volcanic eruption proportions."
"Well, things have improved dramatically with classes
back in session," said Andrea. "With a little luck, things
will be back to normal by the beginning of next week."
"To bad we can't expect better than that," said Junker,
tongue in metaphorical cheek.
Part Eleven: Slight of Mind
The Revolutionary had to make an appearance, of course.
If only to satisfy curiosity, some of it hers. As one of the
main heroes of the infiltration she was praised and saluted.
The Revolutionary found staying in character hard, though,
among these people who knew her in a different guise, and
all the adulation was embarrassing. After only forty minutes
she made her excuses and slipped away from the impromptu
gathering (she had only wanted to meet with a few people and
was a bit distressed at the crowd) to seek out her primary
target. Who, naturally, hadn't been there.
The Prince of Speed was sitting on the veriest point of
an overhanging cliff, twenty meters above the crashing
Atlantic. He seemed unaware of The Revolutionary's approach
up the well-worn forest path until just before she reached
"Good afternoon. I'm assuming you're not here for the
He hadn't even looked around.
"Uh, yes," said The Revolutionary, a bit flustered.
Like most supernaturals he was often a little spooky. "Just
wanted to ask you about something. It's... odd what sticks
in a person's mind... Back at that base, after you disarmed
those men, you said something about how 'Tenbrooks himself
couldn't catch me.' Who or what is that?"
"Kuiper Tenbroek was one of the first documented
supers," said the Prince. "A former slave in the post-War
South, his powers manifested in his teens, shortly after the
War ended. One of his earliest public exploits was to rescue
Molly Bronwether, the daughter of a former slave owner.
Despondent over what she saw as the end of civilization, she
tried to kill herself by driving her horse cart into the
path of a train. Tenbroek later admitted he was more
interested in saving the horse than the woman, but he did
save her. Perversely, she became his greatest enemy,
dedicating her life to ruining him."
"Oh," said The Revolutionary. She gave an embarrassed
laugh. "After my time, actually. Thank you. I sincerely hope
you will indeed take a teaching post here, next semester.
You seem to know things others don't. Interesting things."
"Oh, I definitely know some interesting things," said
The Prince of Speed, only now to turn and look at her. He
smiled and nodded. "Especially about speedsters. Good day."
* * *
"We're getting more new students?" said Template. "And
some of these are the youngest yet?! Considering we're
nearly through with the school year, and have had two
attacks on the school..."
"Neither of which resulted in any serious injuries to
students," Eve pointed out. "Also, nearly half of those
supers killed or injured worldwide the past few days were
individuals who had made a point of tutoring new supers.
They left a void which we can fill."
"Much as I hate to take advantage of others'
misfortune," said Andrea, "there's no way we're going to
drop this ball. We're also offering special medical care and
teaching positions to those supers who were badly injured
protecting the kids they were training."
"Now that's a good idea," said Template, nodding
slowly. "A very good idea. If I remember correctly, most of
the mentors are older masks, many of them retired from
active supering. Even the ones who aren't would probably
welcome the excuse to get out of the business and into a
related second career."
"I'm glad you agree," said Eve, with a slight smile.
"Given your large scale mobility and way with people,
especially those of retirement age, you will be responsible
for contacting most of them."
"Ow..." said Template, mildly.
"That'll teach you to miss a meeting," said Andrea,
* * *
Flying alone was special enough. Flying with someone
was a treat. Flying with one's kin was at least two steps
past even that. Randy could hardly wait to try it with his
own son or daughter. For now, though, having Jenny cruise
with him through the stratosphere was blessing enough.
"Have you thought about the Planetary Guardians'
offer?" he asked, once they were sufficiently alone.
"Oh, yeah," said Jenny, grinning inside the helmet of
her super skinsuit. "An internship with the premier super
team?! Why even ask if I want to!"
"Remember, you'll be interning with the Young
Guardians," said Randy, pointedly. "They're very closely
associated with the adult group, and under their
supervision, but are separately incorporated and housed in a
different facility several klicks away."
"Still, they are officially part of the Planetary
Guardians," said Jenny, equally pointedly. "A franchise, I
guess you could say."
"More like a branch office," said Randy. "You'll also
be one of the youngest members of an already young team."
"I know," said Jenny, peevishly. "Look, Uncle Randy, I
know all this already. And I still really want to do it."
"Good for you," said Randy, grinning inside his own
helmet, a replacement for the one damaged in the missile
attack. "Now... Race you!"
With that he put on a sudden burst of speed. Jenny made
a loud noise of aggravation and struggled to catch him.
* * *
"So you do know how to contact him," said Randy,
feeling a bit relieved.
"Yes," said the Black Mask. "And even if he no longer
responds to that old summons I'm certain my father knows
"That's welcome news," said Randy, nodding. "He's about
the last on the list; besides him there's just two I haven't
been able to contact."
They were in the small break room near the vehicle
section. Randy hadn't wanted to interrupt other business
with his questions, so when the Black Mask had agreed to
help him with a school-related matter they had come here.
"I believe you said there were two things you wanted to
ask me about."
"I'm... feeling a bit uneasy about the legal
ramifications of having Jenny at the school," said Randy.
"Especially since she's become so aggressive, lately, and so
determined to be an active hero."
The Black Mask nodded, then was silent for several
"Do Energia's parents know about her being placed in
peril by going to that school?" he asked, after a bit. "My
concern is, their reaction when they learn about these
attacks and kidnapings."
"They already know," said Randy, with a casual shrug.
"About both this attack on the school and the previous one,
and the attack in Bermuda. They were concerned, yes, but
since Jenny wasn't hurt and actually helped a great deal in
defending others, they're mainly proud."
"You and Karen are correct," said the Black Mask,
gravely. "Your family is nuts."
"Hey, c'mon," said Randy, though he couldn't help but
grin. "Just last week a couple of kids got hurt bad at the
high school Jenny would be attending if she weren't going to
the Pine Academy, when a light fixture fell on them. There's
been sixteen fights serious enough for at least one person
to need medical care there this semester. Two of the injured
were teachers! And several attempts at schools in the area
by strangers to get kids in their cars, all unsuccessful,
fortunately, and thanks to attentive teachers. A super kid's
life isn't that much more dangerous than a civilian's.
However, I'm concerned about what a court might say if Jenny
is injured. Or if some busybody thinks she might be."
"Did you hear about that case, a few years ago, in
which a local child welfare agency tried to prosecute the
parents of a preteen boy who was injured during a circus
"Can't say I did," said Randy, puzzled.
"During the preliminary hearing," said the Black Mask,
"the family explained to the judge that they have been
circus acrobats for several generations, that they took
reasonable precautions but accepted that injuries would
occur, that an investigation had shown the injury in this
case was due to a fluke and not negligence or abuse, and
that they really needed to get back to the circus, since it
was their livelihood. Also, the boy was being schooled with
other circus children, and was missing classes. The judge
heard both sides out, noted that his own son had suffered
more severe injuries playing Little League than the one
which had prompted the action, and dropped the charges."
"Oh," said Randy. He nodded. "I remember, now, hearing
that for cases involving children there was a pretty clear
distinction between unnecessary risks and known risks
associated with family businesses. I guess, since I'm in the
'business,' that would apply here, too."
"Exactly," said the Black Mask. "Though I feel I must
add that this is far from certain. Even the judge in the
circus case might have a different attitude towards supers."
"Anyway, thank you for the information," said Randy,
standing. "For both questions. Now, I need to switch genders
* * *
The old man scowled at Template. Like her he was a
general physical super, though at a lower power level. He
insisted on meeting her at the front door, hobbling up on
crutches from the sunken den, despite his attendant
"Shush, Miranda," he growled, nodding a greeting to
Template. "First you tell me to walk instead of fly, so I
work the leg. Then you tell me to sit instead of walk, so I
don't overstress it. You can't have it both ways."
"I want you to walk on level floors," the woman
persisted, "not climb steps."
"Be glad I didn't shinny down the drainpipe. Now, scoot
and get us some refreshments."
"I'm a health care professional, not a maid," the young
black woman muttered, as she walked out.
"Whew!" said the old man, as he lifted off the floor
and glided gracefully to the couch. He settled down with a
mixed wince of pain and sigh of relief. "Come on in and find
"Thank you," said Template, deciding to walk to the
couch, sitting across the coffee table from the recliner he
was using. "I'm very glad you agreed to talk with me, Mr.
"Since this is hero business, call me Slugger," he
"All right," said Template, smiling. "As I mentioned,
we want to make use of your experience. You've demonstrated
a willingness to help young supers - you've tutored four
that we know of - and would provide you with a chance to
continue that. We can offer good pay, the job is on a near-tropical island, and we have some pretty impressive health
benefits. There's also several people your age, both among
the staff and the islanders, most of whom are used to
supers, or are even supers themselves."
"Are your nurses as pushy as this one?" said Slugger,
jerking his head at Miranda's direction as she entered with
She made a face at him and preceded with her tray to
"Worse," said Template, straightfaced. "Our chief
physician is named Nief."
He got a good laugh out of that, even though he
"I started out solo," he said, after recovering. "I've
worked with others, both on the spur of the moment and as
part of organized teams. I can get along with others fine,
as long as they show the respect I think I've earned, given
my record. When it comes to teaching, though, I prefer one-on-one."
"We have a fairly low ratio of students to teachers,"
said Template, as she accepted a mug of cocoa from Miranda.
"Depending on what you teach, you could very well only have
one student at a time. Though that still might mean several
He nodded, taking his mug and sipping cautiously at it.
He frowned for a moment, shifting in his recliner as he
thought things through.
"When would you want me to start?"
"Any time. Since you wouldn't be a regular teacher we
don't care if you start with a semester or just jump right
"You've sold me," he said, nodding more. "As soon as
the doctors clear me for travel, I'm there."
"Thank you," said Template, rising and offering her
hand. "I'm sure both you and the school will benefit from
* * *
Her triumphant flight back from the Rocky Mountains was
only just under way when her earplug started giving an
emergency chirp. She slowed to a hover and pulled out her
"This Template, auxiliary member of the Intrepids. What
is the emergency?"
"This is federal agent Daryl Harrington!" came the
panicked voice. "We have a prisoner escaping transport!"
"Give me your coordinates!" said Template, already
using the RDF in her com to head in the general direction.
"Do you have any other respondents?"
"Negative. I'm on hand com, with no relay. You're the
only one in range."
He gave the location, and it was, indeed, only a few
klicks away. Template wondered what they were doing
transporting dangerous prisoners on what appeared to be a
road going from nowhere to nowhere.
"I'll be there in under a minute!"
Template quickly called the Intrepids' base as she flew
and gave the details of the situation to Bunter.
"Not sure what's going on, but I can already see smoke
in the distance," she told the computer. "I'll leave this
"I will listen and take notes," said Bunter. "Please be
certain to orient your com so the built-in camera has a view
through the hole provided in its pouch for that purpose."
She tucked the com back into its belt pouch, turned the
right way for the camera to peer out. Template could see,
now, several vehicles. One was a federal heavy prisoner
transport, off the pavement and with a gaping hole in the
side, the edges bent outwards and looking burnt. A costumed
figure stood in the middle of the road, shooting energy
bolts at suited and uniformed people huddled behind
Template hovered for a moment, evaluating the
situation. She thought she recognized the super, in spite of
his prison orange coveralls. Based on size, appearance and
powers he was almost certainly BlowBack, a major player and
hardened criminal. Template reallocated her power, putting
most into resilience and strength. He was physically tough
and strong, but his primary attack was a powerful energy
blast. If she could get in close and pound on him, she
should be able to take him.
Just as she thought that one of the men on the ground
pointed at her and shouted. BlowBack looked up, and raised
his arms to blast her.
Great, thought Template, dodging.
"Nice going, fellows! Warn him you've got help coming,
She swooped down and around. BlowBack was fast; his
beam grazed her twice as she closed. And he was powerful...
but not nearly as powerful as Energex. She suddenly flew
directly towards him, managing to plow into his gut with
both fists. He went down, but immediately rolled to his
knees and fired a blast at her.
Template dodged, using strength and flight together.
She skitter-stepped to the side, then reversed course to
head back in, serpentine, again getting grazed with a couple
of blasts. Her last move was up, then down, to deliver a
hard right cross to BlowBack's upturned face.
He was staggered, but still conscious. Template decided
to try something different, something she'd practiced but
never actually used in a fight. She put her hands on his
shoulders and started draining his energy.
"Wow!" Template couldn't help but shout.
The guy was a powerhouse! He cried out and crumpled.
Template was already glowing; she let him fall away from her
hands. He appeared to be out, anyway. Template looked up to
see a trio of feds dragging a portable Neutralizer out from
one of the vehicles.
"Hold your fire!" she shouted, raising her hands,
noting that the glow was already fading as the energy she'd
taken dissipated. They swung the emitter in her direction.
"Hold your fire, dammit! He's down and I'm on your..."
The beam caught her squarely. Template dropped like a
cartoon anvil, the impact with the pavement not only driving
the air from her lungs but causing her distinct pain.
She was vaguely aware of shouts and angry voices, all
male. Someone came up and waved a gadget over her.
"She transmitting!" he shouted, quickly locating her
He yanked it out of the belt pouch and smashed it to
"Check again!" said someone out of Template's field of
view. "They're sneaky! She could have half a dozen bugs on
He resumed scanning... and went straight back to the
com. Scowling, he stomped on it, checked, uttered profanity
and stomped it again. Then finally picked up a fist-sized
rock with which he repeatedly smashed the com. Finally he
He and two others removed her cape, belt and boots. She
wanted to resist, but couldn't even turn her head. They
turned her over and the man with the scanner reached for her
mask. Template tried to scream, but managed only a moan.
"Whoa! Whoa!" said the voice she'd heard over the com.
"You three, stop what you're doing! Not only did she help
us, here, you can't do that until she's tried and
"Standard policy," said the man, trying to peel the
"Agent! Stand down now!" the Harrington snapped,
finally moving to where Template could see him. He was
younger than she expected. "I don't care what your policy
is, the law says you don't touch a super's mask until
they've been convicted of a felony! Are you trying to get us
all in trouble?! Stand down!"
The man hesitated, then yanked his hand back, face
flushed and jaws clenched.
They took her cape, belt and boots and placed them in
some sort of secure container. The man who had called her
for help crouched down to check her out.
"Sorry about that. Those idiots must have thought you
were trying to rescue BlowBack."
"Agent Harrington, what is the meaning of this?"
The voice belonged to an older man, approaching from
the rear of the convoy, holding a bloody handkerchief to his
"These men mistakenly neutralized a known member of a
hero team," said the younger agent. "Then they..."
"No, you idiot! I mean why are you interfering with
these men's jobs?"
"Sir, as I just explained, they mistakenly..."
"Get this man out of here," the senior agent snapped.
Two of them, smirking, each took an arm and hustled the
protesting Harrington off.
Also smirking, the guy with the scanner crouched down
and reached for Template's mask. They'd waited too long.
Template had some strength back; not super, or even full
normal, but enough to put up a fight with what she'd been
taught by some of the best unarmed combatants on Earth. She
used her limited strength to apply her self defense skills
and executed an elbow lock on the agent, followed by a
takedown and pin.
"I am Template, auxiliary member of the Intrepids," she
husked, barely able to hold on to the man, in spite of
putting her weight into the pin. "I protest this violation
of my civil rights. Damn your eyes, I came here to help!"
It took three of them, but they got the agent loose and
then pinned her down. The senior agent reached for her mask
with his free hand, dripping blood on her as he bent over
and fumbled at the right edge, trying to peel it free.
Template stared him defiantly in the eye, barely resisting
the urge to bite him.
"You're violating the laws of the United States!" she
"Since when did the law matter to people like him?"
said a familiar voice.
"Another one!" someone yelled.
Template looked up to see the Prince of Speed, poised
dramatically on a boulder. The beam from the neutralizer hit
him. He ignored it.
"You're lucky the Intrepids' computer is so flexible,"
the Prince told Template. "You're also lucky I was still in
Eve's telepathy range."
He blurred down to the road beside her and, ignoring
the three men holding her and the others standing around,
put a hand on her shoulder. Template felt and odd sensation,
like a breeze blowing through her body. The Prince lifted
her free and set her on a rock nearby.
"Thanks," said Template, still weak. She began
unconsciously smoothing her mask, trying to re-stick the
loose corner to her face. "They put my stuff in that box."
Most of the agents had their guns drawn, pointed at the
green-haired man. Who, again, ignored them and suddenly
appeared by the box. He swept his hand through it and held
up the bundle.
"Yeah, that looks like all of it," said Template. "Oh,
and can you do something about that neutralizer?"
He smiled, bowed, and flickered away, leaving the
liberated gear hanging in the air. He was back to catch the
bundle before it had dropped noticeably. The neutralizer
fell into a number of large and small parts.
"Again, thank you," said Template.
The Prince walked calmly over to her and presented the
confiscated parts of her costume with another bow. Template
couldn't help but smile as she accepted the gift. She
quickly donned the cape and belt. When she bent over to put
her boot on, however, she almost fell. The Prince caught
her, of course.
"Are you injured?"
"My pride, mostly. Some bumps and bruises."
He released her. And she promptly started falling
again. He grabbed her again. She appeared quite pale.
"On second... thought I... don't feel..."
Part Twelve: Saving Face
"I can't believe you're going to work with the Young
Guardians," said Rubber Made, pouting a bit. "Luckyyyyyy...
Do you have any idea what a prestigious situation that is?"
"Of course I do," said Energia, rolling her eyes.
She stopped, mouth open, expression first annoyed, then
alarmed. Without explanation she closed her mouth and
hurried to open a window, through which she subsequently
"Guess she got a message from Eve," said Moondance. "Or
"Telepathy," said Lasher, in a tone of mock irony. "So convenient, yet so awkward."
* * *
Template lay unconscious in a clinic bed, wired like a
test rocket. She was also being bathed in the glow of a
"Why is she...?" said Energia, shying back on seeing
"We can't find anything wrong with her," said Dr. Nief.
"Oh, her blood pressure and pulse are down, she's running a
mild fever, and so forth, but all those are symptoms; we
can't determine why she's having them. Since she didn't seem
sick before she was neutralized and seemed to get better as
her powers returned, we think her powers may have been
masking the illness while allowing it to progress.
Currently, she's stable, and has even improved a bit, which
indicates to me that her powers weren't actually helping
fight the illness. I'm cautiously optimistic she'll keep
improving, and since she's getting better without her powers
I'm keeping the neutralizer on. If nothing else, that makes
treating her easier."
Energia winced, and forced herself to approach,
shuddering as her own powers faded. Medical units, like this
one, didn't produce the shock of the weaponized
neutralizers, but they still weren't pleasant for supers to
get close to.
"So, what do you think will happen?"
"I'm pretty certain the root cause is simply some
ordinary bug. Since she has no special resistance to
infection as part of her powers, using the neutralizer
allows us to get a true measure of her condition and does
her no harm."
"I think you better call Dr. Whiskers," said Energia,
alarmed that when she took her aunt's hand there was no
response. "She knows Template's medical history better than
"I've already spoken to her. She'll be here about
By the time Dr. Whiskers arrived Template was conscious
- though groggy - and insisting on sitting up. Then
insisting the bed rails be raised so she could hold on until
the room stopped spinning. She greeted the feline medico
with affection if weakly, and submitted to her attentions.
Afterwards Template told Energia, Eve, Dr. Whiskers and Dr.
Nief about the events in the Rockies, from when she arrived
at Slugger's home to when she fainted.
"You should be very glad His Highness has greatly
improved his speed over the past two decades," said Eve,
firmly. "Before, he would have needed over an hour to get
there; now, mere minutes. And that difference may have been
significant. There have been two instances of mysterious
super disappearances in the past week. In both cases the
person who vanished was last known to be responding to a
call for help from feds. Though in neither of those cases
was the subsequently missing super specifically requested to
assist, as you were. They merely heard a general call and
went to see what was wrong."
"What's really irritating about this is that I was
carrying a counter unit, in the rear pouch on my belt. I
just didn't think I'd need it until I saw the neutralizer,
then didn't have time to turn it on."
After the emergency at the school was declared over,
the UN had decided that the neutralizer counters students
and staff had been issued must be replaced with units which
turned off, and that these must be kept off until there was
an obvious need for them. However, they were allowed to
retain the new units for the time being, given the chance of
another attack by the same group, or opportunists. The
ruling had made no sense to anyone at the school, since all
they had to do was reach around and turn the new devices on.
However, Template's experience made clear what the reasoning
behind the directive had most likely been. That a super with
the counter off could be taken by surprise with a
neutralizer attack, while one with the unit on couldn't.
Which made those in the room uneasy as they realized the UN
was keeping open the option of themselves taking action
against the school.
"You should be grateful to them for zapping you," said
Dr. Whiskers, as she finished evaluating the results of her
tests. "If I'm right, you would have eventually been a lot
sicker if they hadn't."
"What do you mean?" said Template, frowning. "Are you
saying me being laid up like this isn't due to them zapping
me right after I absorbed BlowBack's power?"
"You said you were already beginning to dissipate that.
If you had still had enough to harm you when they used the
neutralizer you would have been harmed immediately. Instead,
you needed several minutes to realize you were feeling
"So this is an actual illness," said Dr. Nief, nodding
at having her diagnosis confirmed.
"She's suffering from exhaustion combined with a low-grade but well-entrenched viral infection," said Dr.
Whiskers. "Among other things, the latter is affecting her
inner ear. My guess is that she was already using her powers
to compensate for feeling tired when she got sick, and just
kept amping up to fight the virus without even realizing it.
She should be fine after a couple weeks of rest. If she
isn't better after a week you should try antiviritics.
Meanwhile, she is not to use her powers."
"For how long?" said Template, concerned.
"Until your temperature stays normal for at least two
days in a row," said Dr. Whiskers.
She looked up at Dr. Nief, who nodded again, in
concurrence this time.
"Bed rest for at least another day. Then we'll decide
whether you can go home. Even then you do as little as you
can, both physically and mentally, for another week, when
I'll check you again. Test your temperature three times a
day for the first few days, then drop to once if it's going
down or holding steady. If it goes up, call either Dr.
Whiskers or myself. If it goes up sharply get someone to
take you to the Intrepids' base immediately. Don't waste
time calling either of us. And come by the base anyway in a
week. We can schedule an appointment later."
"Perfect chance for you catch up on all those tapes and
DVDs you complain about not having enough time to watch,"
said Energia, grinning. "And I bet you'll have no trouble
getting Colossa to babysit you."
"So, has anyone found out anything about these new
federal rules of engagement?" said Template, after digesting
"No," said Eve. "However, I think I found out why
President Thurlin quietly called off the attack on our
school and hasn't said anything more on the subject."
She appeared to be fighting a smirk.
"James Fleming's grandfather paid him a visit.
Completely unofficial, of course."
"Oh, my," said Template, her smile causing Eve's to
"All right, I think that's enough visitation for
today," said Dr. Nief. "Everyone out and let her rest."
"We'll keep checking on those new rules and how they're
being abused," said Eve. "Meanwhile, I'll call the Intrepids
and let them know you're going to be all right."
"Thanks," said Template, waving tiredly as they left.
* * *
The news was full of supers. The vast majority of them
being interviewed by TV personalities. Some on the street.
Some in news studios. Some in front of live audiences. Right
now, Randy and Karen were watching a recording of the
previous evening's The Tonight Show on which a pair of
Hollywood-based supers had appeared as hurriedly arranged
"They claim there's a new 'rule of engagement,'" said
Yedinitsa. "Any super who 'interferes' with a federal law
enforcement operation is subject to immediate arrest, on
felony charges. And they define 'interferes.'"
"Even if their help is requested, a super could be
arrested just for being there, if someone decides they're
'interfering,'" said Harper, scowling. "That's what happened
with Template. A fed in trouble called for help, she showed
up and rescued the team he was with, and to show their
gratitude they zapped her and tried to strip her. No telling
what they'd have done to her if the Prince of Speed hadn't
"The Federal Marshals are denying that there was a call
for help," said the host. "They say they had matters well in
hand until Template got in the way of their neutralizer."
"Even if you don't believe the video the Intrepids
released," said Yedinitsa, "one of the agents present says
he did call for help, and that the bad guy was taken down by
Template before they could get the neutralizer in operation.
That they might not have been able even to use it if she
hadn't taken the guy out. That when they did get it in
operation they deliberately targeted Template, even after
she raised her hands and clearly identified herself."
"The senior agent on the scene has not been
identified," said the host, "however, I'm told he actually
bled on Template, so they have a sample of his DNA. However,
the FBI is refusing to do a comparison with any of their
agents, saying this would be a violation of their rights."
"And you know what the crowning irony is?" said Harper,
jabbing a finger at the host. "They lost BlowBack, a known
killer with a record as long as this stage, because they
were so busy harassing a hero for daring to show them up by
rescuing them from their own incompetence! The guy just
crawled off into the bushes and got away while these so-called law-enforcement agents were trying to strip a known
The audience reaction showed definite support for the
supers' statements. Randy smiled as he used the remote to
turn off the TV. Then smiled more as Karen cuddled up
against him. She began slowly stroking his chest.
"I'm surprised they let you change," said Karen, quite
definitely aware of the effect her attentions were having on
"Well, that's a minor use of my powers, and Dr.
Whiskers thinks I may have first had this as Randy, so my
immune system is further along in fighting the virus in this
He took her hand, brought it to his lips and kissed it.
"But she won't let you change any more yet."
"What, you want boobs to play with when you've got a
pair of your own?"
"You can't exert yourself for at least another week,"
said Karen, tracing his lips with a fingertip. "So, no sex.
But you can still cuddle. And cuddling's more fun with a
"Since you're the only girl I've ever cuddled with as a
girl, I yield to your superior experience. And if you don't
stop that, I'm going to 'exert myself,' doctor's orders or
no doctor's orders."
* * *
The news a few days later showed the bizarre spectacle
of nearly fifty supers picketing the White House. The Secret
Service was out in droves. Along with Federal Deputy
Marshals, members of special anti-super units from two
different federal law enforcement agencies, and elements of
the National Guard. Wisely, the authorities hadn't tried to
stop the picket, or even to keep the supers away from the
sidewalk in front of the President's residence. However, no-one without a uniform - including the regulation suits of
the federal agents in that category - was being allowed
within half a block of the scene.
For their part, the masks were being very careful to
stay within both the spirit and letter of the law, and
avoided secure areas. They were quiet, even their chants
subdued and couched in polite language. While weapons were
evident, none were being wielded and all appeared peace-bonded. Some holsters and sheaths were even conspicuously
empty. TV news crews had been allowed to camp at each end of
the block, and occasionally a super or small group of same
would stop for an interview.
"As you can see, the protestors are an odd mix of well-known supers, many with long histories of service, and
complete unknowns," said the reporter on the scene for CNN.
"This batch is all from the same seven teams," said
Karen, puzzled. "Yeah, some are newcomers to heroing, but
they're all on teams with established veterans, some of whom
are also there. And they all had public announcements from
the team about their joining."
"Shush!" said Randy, leaning forward.
"We're protesting the government's new 'rules of
engagement' regarding supers," said Templar, after a quick
cut in the recording.
If the news crew had intended to show the righteous
wrath of supers in regard to the new 'rules' they'd
certainly picked the right person to interview. He stood
there, noble, proud and angry, armor sparkling in the bright
Washington sun as he spoke. Behind him most of the picketers
continued to march with their signs - at least two of which
weighed more each than an SUV - while a couple of Templar's
teammates stood behind him, offering support to his words. A
few supers were taking a break nearby, drinking, eating or
using the portable toilets set up by the DC police.
"They're placing their 'rules' above federal law and
the Constitution itself, while going to great lengths to
keep knowledge of them away from public - and super -
awareness, even to the point of at first denying those new
rules exist. Then they use those secret rules to punish
supers who help them with dangerous criminals. If they won't
tell us what their rules are, how can they blame us for
violating them?! It's like arguing with a five year old!
There comes a time when the adult just has to stop trying to
reason with someone unreasonable and get firm and make the
kid behave. The people behind this mess represent us before
the world, and should listen to what we, the voting public,
have to say in the matter, instead of deciding we aren't
capable of making an informed decision on it. The way
they're acting leads me to believe that they are the ones
incapable of making rational decisions. I even voted for
some of these people, a mistake you can be certain I will
"And what do you think Template will say to the
investigating committee later today?"
"Besides telling them the truth about what happened?"
said Angster, leaning in past Templar to his left. "I think
she'll tell them that the next time they want her help, they
won't get it. Even if her powers do return."
"That's twice she's been arrested for responding to a
call for help from a representative of a government," said
Holster, from Templar's other shoulder, obviously angry.
"Now, not only is she unlikely to do this again, all super
heroes will be reluctant to respond to such appeals. So when
the President attacks us for not helping with a prison
breakout or mint robbery, ask him whose fault that is."
"Yeah!" said another super, who appeared to be with the
Showoffs but whom neither of those watching knew, butting
in. "How do we know it won't be a trap?"
"Is that interview with the congressional subcommittee
today?!" said Karen.
"Yeah," said Randy. "Two o'Clock this afternoon. I've
already arranged transportation. The Prince of Speed will be
there, too, since he was a witness and technically aided the
escape of both a convicted felon and another suspect
involved in the escape."
"So, Template is being officially charged with aiding
the escape of BlowBack, even though she stopped the escape,
and he actually got away later, after the people charging
her had disabled her, allowing the escape."
"Well, so far there are no charges against her or His
Highness," said Randy. "Though it's obvious from what
government spokesmen are saying that both are considered as
good as convicted."
* * *
As it turned out, Template and the Prince of Speed
weren't the only witnesses testifying that afternoon.
"Now, then, Mr. Glider..." said a congressman, peering
at his notes through glasses perched on the far end of his
"That's 'Glide,'" the costumed man said, "not
"Uhm, yes... You say that you saw your partner,
Switcher, seized by guards at the JYB facility."
"Yes. We were on patrol when we heard on our scanner
that there was a disturbance in one of the wings. I flew us
there, dropped him inside, and then flew high cover while he
checked things out. Only, as he walked to the control
building, neutralizers came on all around the area. Then
guards charged out. Even though he was just standing there,
with his hands up, not making any threatening moves, they
shot him multiple times with stunners, then dogpiled him
after he went down. The doctors say he nearly died."
"Let's try to stay away from speculation, here, and on
topic," said the congressman, irritated for some reason.
"Now, then, here's the question. What do you think would be
the natural response of prison guards of someone in a super
costume landing unannounced and uninvited inside the prison
in the dead of night?"
"That he was there to help with the disturbance!" said
Glide, obviously angry. "Switcher and I are known to the
staff, and have previously...!"
"And did you actually see any disturbance?"
"Well... no. But we heard the reports..."
"On a frequency reserved for use by an agency of the
federal government," said the congressman, accusingly.
"We weren't using it," said Glide, defensively. "We
were just listening to it. And..."
"Even though that's a violation of federal law?"
The pudgy congressman sat up, whipped off his glasses
and glared at the super.
"How can you claim to be upholding the law when you
don't even know the law?! I think we're through with this
"But... you haven't..."
"Mr. Glider, you will be quiet and leave now or be
found in contempt of Congress. And keep in mind that being
allowed to leave without arrest at this time is no
protection against being arraigned later on other charges."
"Contempt of Congress?!" the man snapped, taking a
moment to glare at the men and women conducting the hearing
before leaping from his seat and flying towards the double
doors at the rear of the hall. "Well, that would make it
"Have security detain that man," said the congressman,
speaking to a security guard standing well to the side.
"Now, then, who's next?"
Template's interview went a little better, mainly
because she was forewarned by how they treated Glide. She
found that her still-weakened condition made keeping her
cool easy; she just didn't have the energy to get upset. Her
calm demeanor seemed to baffle her inquisitors as much as
her answers to their questions did. Their version of events
was so at odds with what had actually happened that Template
several times had to ask clarifying questions just to
understand what they were talking about. Those on the
subcommittee hadn't even known BlowBack had escaped while
the feds were trying to coral Template. During the
questioning, Template tried to determine what the group she
rescued was doing in the middle of nowhere, but her attempts
After twenty-three exhausting minutes, they finally
gave up trying to badger her into either changing her
testimony or having an outburst. Instead, they turned their
attentions on her green-haired companion.
The Prince of Speed took a different tack.
"Before I answer any of your questions, I want you to
understand something. As designated heir to the throne of
the Realm of the Fae I have already instructed our
ambassadorial staff here in Washington and our
representatives at the United Nations to protest both these
'rules of engagement' and the actions they are being used to
That caused a major stir. Template peered at the men
and women seated in front of her, suddenly understanding
they had not realized the green-haired man's public name was
more than just a mask's pretension. The chairman declared a
recess... or tried to.
"If you leave now, I will not be here when you return,"
said His Highness, stiffly. "I have important matters to see
to, and have no more time for this petty exercise in
vindictiveness against your own citizens."
They were obviously not used to being spoken to in that
manner, and far less used to the speaker getting away with
it. Flummoxed, the chair quickly declared that they had no
more questions for either witness. Template and the Prince
left with calm dignity.
Once they were out of the building, however, they both
broke down into helpless giggles.
"Oh," gasped Template, quickly finding a bench and
dropping onto it. "Oh, my. I'm still too weak to be laughing
"I never thought pulling rank like that would be so
much fun," said the Prince, dabbing at his emerald eyes with
a Kelly green kerchief. "I was going to follow the rules,
and jump through their hoops. I am a US citizen, or was
before I left, twenty years ago, and like to think the
system here works. But when I realized that the purpose of
that particular group was not to evaluate the situation, but
to justify it, I changed my plans."
"I just wish we could have done that before they
interviewed anyone else," said Template, regaining control.
"Not to worry. With all the bad press, the super picket
and several protests from other nations besides my
Grandfather's, I think the administration will be doing some
*Imagine you're the leader of a world power, and that
you've recently threatened to attack a certain island. That
evening, when you enter your bedroom, you find Sir James
Bond sitting in your favorite chair, reading the book you
had started the day before. He smiles at you, puts the book
down and rises to greet you politely, even respectfully.
Then informs you that his grandson is on that island you
have threatened, and asks you, again politely, to
Oh, and when you finish, he leaves, and you enter your
bedroom, to find your spouse asleep in the very rumpled bed,
Note that this isn't what happened off-stage in the
story. It's what many people imagined happening, based on
the man's reputation.
Part Thirteen: Realignment
"Well, that was unsettling," said Maddy Singleton,
Congresswoman from Vermont, as she and her peers filed out
of the meeting room nearly two hours later. "Bad enough that
these people seem to think they deserve special privileges
over and above what is granted to the average citizen, some
of them aren't even citizens! I never could stand the
English royalty, with their elitist airs and their
eccentricities. Green hair?!"
"Uh, he's not English royalty," said one of her aides.
"Not to worry," said the subcommittee chairman, not
deliberately ignoring the aide, but simply unaware she had
spoken. "Now that we have all these rogue supers in custody
that should take them down a notch. I can't believe so many
of them - Most with standing warrants against them! -
actually had the nerve - or stupidity - to show up here."
One of the security guards was trying, quietly, to get
the attention of the subcommittee chairman. However, Maddy
still had something to say and with one of his peers
speaking, the chairman simply didn't notice the man.
"Anyway, it's time to head back to my office. My
hairdresser is probably waiting, and I need my hair done
before the press conference." She scowled unpleasantly. "As
it is she'll probably bitch and moan about how I kept her
waiting and how that will make her late for her next
appointment and all her other customers will complain to her
about being late. Hmph. She seems to think everything is
about her. Doesn't she know I'm a United States Senator?"
"Excuse me, Senator Holbert, but only one of the supers
who testified today is in custody," said the guard, finally
able to get the man's attention.
"Eh?" said the congressman. "That's nonsense. They were
all right there. We told you people ahead of time to be
prepared to arrest those we indicated, as well as all who
were already wanted by the law."
"None of them had outstanding warrants," said the
guard, attention divided between the partially conflicting
duties of watching for trouble and informing his charges of
security developments, "and security reports that only one
person was actually arrested, the woman named Escutcheon*
the Untouchable. And they're still waiting to hear from you
"I told you, they have standing warrants against them!"
"Not that we've been able to find," said the guard. "If
you can't supply something concrete, we'll have to let her
"I've had enough of this!" the congressman snapped,
stopping and turning to face the guard. "If you can't do the
paperwork, we'll find someone who can."
"We can do the paperwork. And the computer database
searches. And we have nothing on this woman. So if you
"I told you I'd had enough!"
With that he spun back around and marched away.
* * *
"I hate to say it, but maybe the time really has come
for some sort of registration and licensing," said Colossa,
sighing. "Even if it's just to keep them from putting a much
stricter registration program in place, or even ban us
completely again. I just hate to let the government run such
a program. Any government."
Following a few more days of their "investigation" the
Senate subcommittee which was supposed to be looking into
the new rules of engagement and their abuse had recommended
all supers reveal their secret identities to a registration
board, to be administered by the FBI. Even the most anti-super TV news "personalities" were having trouble
reconciling that announcement with the stated purpose of the
"Why not do it like domain names?" said Rapscallion,
after a short and gloomy silence. He laughed. "We could
check with the people who register clowns for advice!"
"You know," said Bowman, thoughtfully rubbing his chin,
"that's not a bad idea. You could have several independent
groups run by supers or non-super people supers trust.
They'd better be non-profit, though. Maybe charge a token
amount to register a super name and costume, plus a yearly
fee to keep the registration active, to defray costs. That
could help avoid situations where someone takes a retired
super's name without permission, too."
"They would also have to provide contact information,
and maybe even procedures," said the Black Mask, nodding.
"Besides registering masks, they could provide a message
drop service. The same sort of arrangement many super teams
already have, only formalized."
"That might just work," said Colossa, starting to get
behind the idea. "I mean, while most supers want to keep
their identity secret from bureaucracies and the press - and
their enemies - they share with team members and friends.
This would be a formalization of that."
"And it's already considered an accepted risk by such
masks that an enemy might gain access to that information,"
said the Black Mask, actually seeming eager. "We could
provide standards for minimum security, and so forth."
"I think," said Bowman, "that we need to make a very
large conference call."
"Preemptive strike!" crowed Rapscallion.
* * *
"How are you feeling?" said Andrea, the next day, at
The administrator had caught Template first thing, as
she landed outside the main building and walked to her usual
"Both doctors have cleared me for light duty," said
Template. "To be honest, I'm really glad of that. I was
getting pretty bored."
"Well, do not overdo it," said Andrea, firmly. "Look, I
know you and Colossa are planning your, uhm..."
She paused as a gaggle of students walked by, talking
about something neither of the adults could figure out.
"Let's just say Randy's new bride would be rather upset
if her new husband was laid up for the honeymoon, instead of
laying in another way."
"Hey!" said Template, blushing as Andrea winked at her.
* * *
Template was in Gadgetive's lab at the old Pine base.
The teen inventor was one of the few students to be granted
such a privilege, and so far that action had proven
justified several times. Just now, it might help save
"The first thing we did after installing the initial
set of units was listen," she explained to Template. "That
is, monitor the existing, background noise. The idea being
once we knew what was normal, we could filter it out. But
that proved more complicated than we thought."
Gadgetive was sitting at the master control for the
Sub-Teran communications system she had been primarily
responsible for developing. Strange sounds were coming from
speakers in odd positions around the lab. Since others
besides her - most of them not-gadgeteers - would be using
the system once it was operational it would eventually be
moved to a room separate from her lab, but just now only she
and a few others could even understand how to work the
"Those old tunnels are surprisingly noisy," said
Gadgetive, fiddling. "We get whale noises, geological and
geothermal sounds conducted through the rock, creakings and
poppings we haven't found explanations for yet, even a
sucking sound from the osmotic pumps. But! You can filter
all those out. And when you do, you get this."
The lab was suddenly much quieter. There was still some
noise, but standing out among that, now, was an odd,
groaning sound. When this changed to sobbing Template
realized, with a start, that she was hearing someone in
distress, an actual human moaning and weeping.
"Where's it coming from?"
"Still working on pinpointing it," said Gadgetive,
working knobs and levers. "So far I've narrowed it down to a
forty-klick stretch between two access stations. I should
have it to the meter in another couple of days."
"Gadgetive," said Template, very deliberately, "whoever
that is could be dead in a couple of days. Just give us that
forty kilometers and we'll search it. Should take less than
an hour, once we get someone down there."
"No, no, I know I can..."
"Gadgetive!" said Template, very firmly. "Give me the
She pouted, but complied.
* * *
"It was close," said Junker, as he, Template and a
bunch of others met in the teacher's lounge the next day.
"Guy almost died of dehydration, and was close to starving,
anyway. There's very little fresh water down there. There
are some seeps, but most of those are brackish. Judging by
the loose fit of his clothes, he must have been pretty
overweight before he got lost. That's probably what saved
"He wasn't even conscious," said Thurlgar, one of the
very few Sub-Terans left and on loan from the Super Hoosiers
"Good thing we didn't wait for Gadgetive to pinpoint
his location," said Template, nodding. "He stopped making
sounds before she could have finished."
"We didn't find any ID on the guy," said MoleMan, on
loan from the Superlatives. "However, he matches the
description of Belleau."
"We got him!" said Cyclone Ranger, triumphantly, on
hearing the news.
"Yes, and we keep that quiet!" said Eve, sternly. "If
his allies still consider him missing we have a much better
chance of actually catching them!"
"The weird part is he was close to an access shaft,
which surfaces on a populated island in the eastern
Atlantic," said Thurlgar. "He should have had plenty of time
to get there and climb up. For that matter, he had enough
time to reach the closest ventilation shaft to the west of
the Atlantis Seamount. From what signs we were able to find
he appears to have gone about halfway back and forth between
those shafts, and down some side tunnels, several times,
covering more distance than what he needed to travel to
reach either exit from where he started but always stopping
short of anything which would have significantly helped him
or let him escape."
"What was he doing down there, all alone and without
any equipment, anyway?" said Template.
"This is just a guess, but we know Dr. Hartford and his
team are missing from that undersea base. Given the papers
and computer disks we found in Belleau's attache case -
which he apparently dropped within the first hour of walking
- we think he expected to be evacuated when he first went
down there. The power was off to the lift. We figure that he
was assumed to be gone and they turned the power off before
he tried to go back up. We'll probably know more once we can
"I wonder if this actually is how Dr. Hartford
escaped," said Template, thoughtfully. "Knowing how his real
loyalty is to himself and a few of his aides, they probably
abandoned the metaphorical sinking ship and got there first,
and stole whatever transport this guy was expecting to use."
"You do realize this means this group uses the Sub-Teran tunnels for travel," said Junker, making sure Template
got his point. "Maybe routinely."
"All the more reason to finish Gadgetive's
communications and monitoring system soon."
"It's just about ready to pass TLAR," said Junker,
"What's that?" said Cyclone Ranger, puzzled.
"That's where the chief tech, in his greasy coveralls
and with a filthy rag sticking out of his back pocket, walks
all around something, examining it," said Junker, straight-faced, "rubs his chin for a moment, then nods and says 'That
Looks About Right.'"
* * *
Graduation brought multiple emotions. Much had happened
during the past few months, and many of those events - or
their aftereffects - were still affecting the students,
faculty and school supporters. Of those graduating, several
already had guaranteed places on super teams, while others
had jobs in various industries. A few were even returning
for college-level courses in the Fall, even though the
school hadn't been certified yet and the hours might not be
accepted by actual colleges. Four of the graduates would be
back as junior faculty.
Nearly all of the non-graduating students would return.
The consensus was "Best school ever!" Which says a lot about
After the last student had left; after the dorms had
all been cleaned out and closed for the Summer; after the
non-resident school staff had finished packing, Eve had a
day-long meeting with the teachers and administrators. It
was a mixed review and gripe session.
"Better security," was suggested by several.
"We need to open more sections of the Pine base," said
Junker, seconded by Myna, Valence and Marcus Altione.
"We need a class on superpositional movement next
semester," said Weather Warper.
"I agree, but why are you the one bringing this up?"
"You do know I can move from any storm to any other,
anywhere on the planet, right?" he said, with a slight
smirk. "Something about equipotential transposition,
according to the brains. But I don't know a lot about how it
works, and I'm the closest to an expert we currently have."
"Oh..." said Andrea. "All right, noted."
Problems were put forward and marked for the attention
of the permanent staff over the Summer. Some suggestions
were likewise earmarked; others would require more
discussion. And Eve made certain to note what they had done
right, and pass out well-earned commendations.
Finally, Eve announced that they had one piece of
business left, to be broached by a guest. And that was
Tiger's cue to enter.
He smiled at the group, nodding to those he knew, and
took Eve's place at the head of the table, standing easily
while he - grinning - let the tension build for a few
"How would you like to be in the Proactive Society?"
said Tiger, when it was obvious people were becoming
impatient. "Not just you folks, but the whole school. You've
got people here who are completely off the radar as far as
intelligence agencies and political action committees are
concerned. Besides the staff having some experienced people
with good connections, some of those kids are bright, and
could easily supply fresh insights."
There were various reactions. None were outright
rejection, but there were a few who were doubtful.
"I don't know about this," said Andrea. "We're already
alienating a lot of governments. I know the Society keeps a
low profile, but some of its announcements and actions
have... greatly displeased some influential nations."
"Some of which enthusiastically support this school,"
said Tiger. "We'll present this to them as - among other
advantages - a way to add another viewpoint - from a group
they favor - to the Society."
"What would be our status?" said Eve.
"The school itself would be like a college or research
institute think tank," said Tiger. "You'd have a panel which
would chose what ideas and projects to present to the
Society. Also, some staff and even some students would be
welcome as members individually and separately from that."
"I like it," said Template, nodding slowly. "I've heard
a lot of good things about the Proactives from people whose
judgement I trust. Of course, they all also had criticisms,
which us joining could help address."
There was a subdued buzz of discussion. Then Eve called
for a vote.
"Aren't you rushing this a bit?" said the Fortean.
"Do you want to wait any longer to go home?" said Eve,
There was a bit of a collective chuckle over that. And
they voted. Almost unanimously in favor.
"One more thing for the permanent staff to work on,"
said Weather Warper, with a sigh.
"Is there any other business?" said Eve. No-one had
any. "Then I declare this meeting, and this semester, and
the first year of the school's operation, over."
There was a subdued cheer, they said their goodbyes -
some of them quite emotional - and began filtering out.
"You were rushing things," said Template to Eve, when
only they, Andrea and Tiger were left.
"Just because I'm tired," said the principal, with a
lackluster smile. "Ask Tiger, if you don't believe me."
"Well, she did want to save that for last, since it was
a last-minute thing," said Tiger, with a shrug. "And she did
want to get the meeting over with; why I don't know."
"Okay," said Template, nodding. "Well, I want to get
home, too. I've got a wedding to plan. You did all get your
They all nodded, and Andrea even gave Template a
"I definitely plan to be there," she assured Template.
The others also confirmed. They began drifting towards
the door. Eve, the last out, reached back to turn off the
"And that's it until the Fall."
*The senator later stumbled over "Escutcheon" in a
press conference, muttered something about how none of his
staff could use a "spelling checker" and went on to announce
that they had "Eustachian the Untouchable' in custody. Hours
after Escutcheon had been released with an apology.
This document is © 2006 Rodford Edmiston Smith. Anyone wishing to reproduce it must acquire permission from the author, who can be reached at:
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