Go to my Home page.
Go to my Stories page.

Masks Series IV: My Summer Job


Rodford Edmiston

Team Members

Blue Dagger: Former sidekick ("Partner!") of the Red Rapier.

Fantasy Child: Actually thirty, but looks 17. Mental powers.

Shadowsong: Team mystic, with some mild physical powers.

'Toon!: They're... not really sure...

Gloria: Strong, fast, tough, flies.

        Yes, this team is intended to resemble the various incarnations of the Teen Titans. However, they are not an exact duplicate.

        For those new to Masks, or who may have forgotten some of the details from previous stories, Thunderscout is a Captain Marvel Junior type. Except that "he" is a teenage girl who turns into a teenage boy, something not commonly known and which s/he considers embarrassing.

        The helipad at the Planetary Guardians' base was poised to deliver a large amount of pomp and circumstances. Even the team members were in fancy dress, including the two representatives of the Young Guardians who were present. Energia actually felt a bit intimidated, slowing as she approached. Still, they had obviously already seen her; she couldn't turn back. Photographers were even snapping pictures of her in flight. She took a deep breath and plunged ahead.

        The band started playing as she landed, and America's Guardsman stepped forward, hand extended. Energia reflexively shook his hand and then those of the other senior team members present, as the Guardsman made introductions. Energia knew them all, of course, or at least she recognized them from their photos and news coverage. She felt a bit flustered at how _tall_ they all seemed.

        "And here are those you will be working with directly for the next two months," Guardsman said, as he guided Energia to the next group.

        These two she also knew. They were only a bit older than her, where the senior Guardians were nearly all middle-aged.

        Blue Dagger was in his 'formal' costume, complete with sweeping, navy blue cape. Fantasy Child was in a slightly fancier version of her usual white bell-bottoms and long-sleeved flower-print blouse with puffy sleeves. 'Toon!, Gloria and Shadowsong, the rest of the current roster, weren't there. It made sense to send the two oldest and most responsible - Blue Dagger was in his twenties and Fantasy Child her thirties - but Energia was a bit disappointed at the lack of the team's real weirdie. Of course, she'd meet all of the rest later...

        "Sorry about all this fuss," said Fantasy Child, murmuring in Energia's ear as she gave the youngster a reassuring hug. "We always do this for the first to arrive when we get a new batch of Summer interns, to get the press and political attention over with, and you just happened to draw the short straw."

        There were speeches next, but fortunately they were few and short. Then the press and dignitaries were dismissed and Energia entered the Guardians' base with her escort.

        "There, that wasn't so bad, was it?" said Fantasy Child, grinning, as they stopped in a top-floor lounge.

        The view was impressive, since the Guardian Tower was a cylinder standing nearly thirty stories proud in the middle of the city's largest park.

        "Never miss an opportunity to let the press and politicians have a party," said the Guardsman, now much less formal in manner. "Gets them on your side and satisfies their curiosity in a controlled fashion. Anyway, you get the five cent tour, courtesy of your new teammates; then they'll take you to the Young Guardians' base. Welcome to our intern program."

        The other members Planetary Guardians who were present also welcomed her, as they in turn made their exit.

        "Wow," said Energia, as the last of the older supers trailed out. "They were really intimidating upstairs, but I guess that was just for show. They're a lot nicer away from the norms."

        "Most masks are just folks, once you get to know them," said Blue Dagger.

        "Folks who can move mountains," said Fantasy Child, grinning.

        Energia covered a huge yawn.

        "Sorry," she said. "Still on island time."

        "I thought you had a few days at home between the end of school and the start of your time here," said Blue Dagger.

        "Yeah, but like any red-blooded American teenager I slept in. So my biological clock didn't reset. And now I'm all the way out here."

        "Well, let's get over to our headquarters and introduce you around," said Fantasy Child. "Then you can rest."

        The trip was much quicker and more convenient that Energia expected. They took an express elevator to a sub-basement where the trio boarded a small, private subway maintained by the Guardians. This transport not only ran between the two teams' buildings, but also to a concealed dock on the river and a small, private airport outside the city, as well as a few other places.

        "This was originally a super base named The Pillbox," said Blue Dagger, as they exited the small car in a utilitarian basement room. "It was built for the Commando Seven back in the early Forties, when the feds were pushing for supers to help with the war effort, and supporting just about any crazy excuse for a team which came along. Though the Commando Seven actually did a lot of good - if covert - work in Europe and the Pacific."

        His com beeped and he excused himself to answer it. Fantasy Child took over the tour as they crossed the short distance to stairs leading up.

        "All of the Seven - the Night Master, the Sailor, Gunboat, Marine Max, Airman, Cutlas and Cavalry - were military veterans, from a mix of services and periods," said Fantasy Child. "They formed just to help with the war effort, and disbanded shortly after Germany surrendered. They offered their base to other teams in the area but had no takers, so it was mothballed. There was repeated talk for over a decade of making it into a museum, but nothing ever came of that. Finally, when the Planetary Guardians decided to house the Junior Guardians in a separate facility - for a number of reasons - someone remembered The Pillbox. It wasn't for sale, but the owner - a relative of one of the Seven, as it turned out - on query decided to let it go, since it was just sitting here, gathering dust and property taxes, and sold it to the Guardians for a dollar."

        They had already climbed several flights and were just about to reach the top of the stairs, in a corner of a small lounge, when Blue Dagger finished his conversation.

        "The other intern we're taking this Summer will be arriving in just a few minutes," said BD, putting his com away. "I think you know him. If you'll come with us to the roof, he's flying here directly."

        They climbed yet more stairs up three levels to the roof of the circular structure. Energia found herself glad the Academy insisted on everyone taking gym class. Even so, she was a bit out of breath when they arrived on the roof. That tiredness was forgotten when she saw a familiar colorful costume in the air, descending towards them.

        "Thunderscout!" said Energia. She was quite happy to see a familiar face, and as he landed quickly stepped forward to give him a friendly hug. "I didn't know you were coming here!"

        "I was third on the list, and number two decided to go commercial," said the young man, grinning. "He's starting an acting career."

        "Wait. You mean _I_ was number one on the list?" said Energia, breaking the hug and turning to look back and forth between Thunderscout and Blue Dagger.

        "We don't normally tell people their ranking," said Blue Dagger, appearing a bit uncomfortable. "He only knew because we had to explain why he was suddenly in."

        "So, who was number two?"

        "Fellow known as Kid Dynamic. General powers, a lot like Thunderscout's but at a lower level, with super speed instead of flight."

        "A real generalist," said Energia, impressed.

        "Which was why we originally chose him over Thunderscout," said BD. "We tend to focus on flexibility of power over magnitude."

        Introductions were formally made, Thunderscout politely shaking Blue Dagger's hand and somewhat awkwardly accepting a hug from Fantasy Child.

        "I've heard my family talk about both of you," he said, as they went down the stairs to the ground floor of the base. He looked at Blue Dagger. "You were Red Rapier's sidekick."

        "Partner," said Blue Dagger, brusquely.

                          *                         *                         *

        "I'm glad I won't be surrounded by complete strangers," said Energia, when she, Fantasy Child and Thunderscout were left in the lounge while Blue Dagger went to gather the rest of the team.

        "Yeah, me, too," he replied, smiling shyly.

        "Oh, we're all pretty easy to get to know," said Fantasy Child. "BD is the least social, and even he is pretty amiable, as long as you avoid his weird areas."

        "His..." said Energia, puzzled.

        "Topics he has strange ideas about," said Fantasy Child, rolling her eyes. "His family is... odd."

        "We ought to get along just fine, then," said Thunderscout, sourly. "Oh, wait; no, we shouldn't, 'cause I don't get along with my weird family."

        Fantasy Child laughed, her beautiful voice and innocent charm causing the younger two to smile in rsponse.

        "So, uh, Fantasy Child..." said Energia...

        "Call me Annie," the older super replied, with a wave of her hand. "I've never bothered with that secret identity stuff; I just thought 'Fantasy Child' sounded cool."

        "Okay," said Energia, grinning, "how many full-time members does the team have right now? Seems like you folks keep changing."

        "Five," said Annie. "Historically, we've gone from three to sixteen, but usually have between five and ten, and we take on about a third that number of interns every Summer. That gives us a nice, manageable team size, and a good ratio of regular members to interns."

        Blue Dagger returned, with 'Toon!, Shadowsong and Gloria trailing behind him. The two women were remarkably ordinary looking, except for being in costumes. Shadowsong was pale - though not as pale as Moondance - with dark hair and eyes, pretty much a typical Goth once one got past the whole mystic wardrobe thing. Gloria was Hispanic, buxom and as cheerful as the smaller girl was dour. 'Toon! was, of course, 'Toon!, and in Technicolor. Energia found it odd that she and Blue Dagger were the only ones in the room wearing masks. She knew that all the team members except for Fantasy Child had secret IDs, and wondered how those who didn't cover their faces maintained the secret.

        "Tour time!" said 'Toon!, enthusiastically.

        Both the interns had been inside super bases before. While the layouts were individual in all of them, the contents were pretty much standardized. Sizes and numbers of rooms of the various types would vary from installation to installation, and there would be auxiliary features in some not found in others, but a super base was pretty much a super base, no matter what team used it. Or even whether it was for good guys or bad. They therefore found the setting familiar, even comfortable.

        "And, finally, here are the quarters," said Blue Dagger. "The base is large for the number of us currently here, so everyone has his or her own room. Energia, you're here, on the end, next to Annie and across from me. Thunderscout, you're two rooms over, between Annie and Shadowsong."

        "Wow, this is a lot nicer than my dorm room at the Academy," said Energia, standing just inside the doorway to her room. She giggled. "Actually, it's bigger than my room at home!"

        "Your luggage, as you can see, arrived safely and is already in your rooms. Feel free to decorate as you want, as long as you don't cause any damage larger than a nail hole."

        "And only for modest sizes of nail," said 'Toon!.

        "Dinner is at seven," said Blue Dagger. "If you have special dietary requirements please contact the cook; the number is on the phone. Until then, you're free to unpack and settle in. Tomorrow we will begin your training, starting with an evaluation of your abilities."

        "See you at dinner!" said Annie, cheerfully, waving as she and the other members walked back towards the stairs.

        Energia and Thunderscout looked uncertainly at each other, then wordlessly entered their rooms.

                          *                         *                         *

        Each of the three above-ground levels of the Pillbox had a lounge, located beside the main staircase. Most of these were simply convenient places to sit. The team members' quarters were on the top floor. The middle floor held the dining room, the formal meeting room, a small armory and the largest lounge, complete with an impressive entertainment center. The ground floor held the entrance foyer, which doubled as a press area, a small public relations office - which was usually closed - and the trophy room. The first basement level held the training area, complete with lockers and showers. The second basement level contained the mission room and security center. The lowest level held the subway terminal, the main armory/arsenal and the infirmary.

        Team vehicles were stored in several locations. Land vehicles were in an attached garage. The team's hopper was in a shed on the roof, adjacent to the heliport, and there was a plain vanilla van parked in the garage of an adjacent building, accessible through a short tunnel. Other vehicles were stored with the Guardians' transportation equipment, at a riverside facility accessed by the subway.

        Energia got bored with unpacking and organizing, and after finishing the basics decided to head down to the second level to check out the enormous TV in that floor's lounge. However, as she departed from the stairs she saw Blue Dagger exiting that room, appearing disgusted.

        "Don't... go in there," said Blue Dagger, holding up his hands in a warning gesture, looking vaguely ill. "'Toon! is cleaning his ears."

        "Ewww..." said Energia.

        "It's worse than you think. He takes them off, first."

        That almost made her want to look. However, the arrival of Thunderscout required a repetition of the warning from Blue Dagger. Who then went into the dining room, even though supper was still half an hour to come. Energia and Thunderscout looked at each other for a moment, then followed.

                          *                         *                         *

        "You ought to see him stand on his head," said Shadowsong, wryly, upon hearing about the incident.

        She was slumped bonelessly in her chair, hood drooped halfway off her head, looking slightly bored. Why she was here already she didn't mention.

        Blue Dagger, Energia and Thunderscout took seats at the table. There was a bit of an awkward silence. Energia decided to take the plunge; there was a lot she wanted to ask the regular team members about.

        "What can you tell me about team activities?" she said. "My parents only let me come here 'cause the Guardians promised that it would be safe, that the Young Guardians didn't do much that was actually dangerous. Which isn't what your reputation says."

        "Most of our hero work is pretty small stuff," said Blue Dagger. "Pretty mundane. We've even occasionally rescued cats from trees. About a third of our missions are more serious, involving actual crimes, some of them committed by supers. About one in a hundred cases is something world-impacting."

        "That's a slightly different situation than most super teams have," said Thunderscout. "Well, the one in a hundred thing is pretty standard for well-established teams. But from my own family's history, I know that most teams tend to do almost all middle of the road stuff. Crimes by small groups of mediocre criminals or one or two moderately formidable ones."

        "I kinda envy you," said Energia, looking over at Thunderscout. "Growing up in a family of super heroes. There's some other members of my family with powers, but except for my uncle they're all pretty minor."

        "He's the one who helped found the Academy," said Blue Dagger, nodding.

        "You're not supposed to know that," said Energia, a bit shocked.

        "It's in the open portion of your file," said Blue Dagger. "Don't worry, even that is held in secure storage and not available to the public."

        "Well, good, 'cause I don't want everyone to know who I am. Especially the government."

        "I don't understand why so many masks keep who they are secret from the government," said Annie, who had entered unnoticed a few moments before. She moved over to sit by Blue Dagger. "Especially in the US. Sure, early on, especially when Hoover was after 'em, I can understand that, but today there's so many protections..."

        "I don't think it's so much from the government as from the politicians," said Blue Dagger, after giving her a quick kiss, to Energia's surprise. "Over and over, politicians violate the law and the Constitution to further their own goals, and by the time the courts overturn their actions great harm has been done."

        "Besides, what business is it of the government?" said Thunderscout. "I mean, local governments know who is in their police and fire departments, but they don't register them with the feds. Teams know who their members are, but they shouldn't have to register with the feds, either, and for the same reasons. It's none of the federal government's business."

        "Well spoken," said Blue Dagger.

        "Wow," said Annie, grinning as she looked back and forth between the two. "You two sound like a debate tag team."

        The food started arriving about then, along with the remaining team members - 'Toon! with his ears properly in place - and conversation was on hold until they had all been served. However, once the non-supers had left Thunderscout looked over at Annie. He hesitated for a moment before speaking, and was a bit deferential when he finally did.

        "If you don't mind a personal question... Why do you look so much younger than you are? I'm just... curious, it's nothing important. To me, I mean."

        "I'm lucky," said Annie, brightly. "Besides my mental powers I have a form of low-level regeneration which also prevents aging."

        "Like our principal, Eve," said Energia, nodding. "Or Tiger. Or the elves. Or..."

        "Yes, but most of them stabilized a bit older in appearance than I did," said Annie, making a face. "I still get carded. And then they don't believe the card."

        "There are a lot of people who _wish_ they had that problem," said 'Toon!, chuckling.

        "What sort of staff do you have, here?" said Energia. "You mentioned a cook, and there were those people who brought out the food..."

        "She's actually over at the main headquarters," said Blue Dagger. "The others you just saw are based there, too. Since we're an adjunct of the Planetary Guardians we use a lot their staff, and even some of their facilities. Besides the team members, the only people dedicated to this building are three five-person shifts of security, and a dayshift of maintenance, technical and support staff. Of those, we have one mad scientist type who is required by the terms of his probation to live here. Baron Gustav von Fastrand has his own quarters in the basement."

        "And, yes, he's a descendant of _that_ Baron von Fastrand, the discoverer of Fastrand's Number," said Gloria. "He shares his ancestor's mathematical genius, too."

        "'Probation'?" said Thunderscout.

        "Oh, don't worry; he's actually a nice guy," said Blue Dagger. "He just has an attitude problem with authority figures and mouthed off to the wrong judge. On appeal he got his sentence reduced to time served plus five years of public service. He was already doing some work for the Guardians and we needed a good tech, so they sent him here. He has a year and a half to go."

        "Okay... If he's basically honest and moral, how come he's a convicted felon?" said Energia.

        "For a mathematical genius he's a pretty poor bookkeeper," said Gloria, wryly. "They got him on tax evasion. Only he insists it wasn't his fault, and that he did the best he could given the vague, inaccurate and misleading instructions in the long form."

        "Ach!" said 'Toon!, shifting into a caricature a pudgy, balding man with a goatee and wearing a straining three-piece suit. "It's an aproxxxximation! A valid mathematical technique!"

        That brought a general chuckle, after which they settled down and focused on their meal with little further conversation until desert. Once they had their treats in hand, the residents of the Pillbox adjourned into the lounge to watch the news as they ate.

        "Wow," said Gloria, laughing, after a segment on a celebrity's new baby. "I can't believe what she named that kid!"

        "You think that's bad?" said Annie, raising a blond eyebrow. "My parents really did name me Dreamboat Annie Gorgeous. And they really did name me after the song. My older sister got off easier with Lucille Gorgeous."

        "Wait," said Energia, holding up a hand. "I've heard of Dr. Gorgeous; she's done stuff for the Pine Island Academy. You mean that's your real family name?"

        "Yes," said Annie, smiling and nodding. "It's from the Croatian."

        She giggled, momentarily seeming very much her apparent age.

        "I started my mask career when I was just twelve, helping my sister, who didn't want me along."

        "Which explains why you thought 'Fantasy Child' was a cool mask name," said Blue Dagger, dryly.

        "Oh, pooey on you," said Annie, mildly. "I may not have my sister's IQ but I probably beat any of you, and I was an early developer."

        "And, boy, is she developed," said 'Toon!, morphing into a cartoon Groucho.

        He got hit with a couch cushion, doing a comic backflip and pratfall, complete with circling stars. And then deftly caught his desert before it could hit the floor.

        "Don't be disappointed if you don't see much action these two months," said Annie, calmly settling herself back onto the couch. "We are a pretty low-key group, and tend to keep interns in the background, since they're usually under age and don't have a lot of experience."

        "Most of what we do is help the police with open cases," said Blue Dagger. "We gather information at crime scenes, or even occasionally work undercover. We stand by in case a hostage negotiation goes bad. We take point in dangerous offensive operations, such as when a hostage situation goes bad. In short, we use our special abilities to help the police with non-routine problems."

        "I remember you folks handling that school hostage crisis last year," said Thunderscout, nodding.

        "Most of your time here this Summer will be spent studying, training and making a few public appearances," said Blue Dagger. "Even when the main team goes into action, you'll be held in reserve."

        "I'm okay with that," said Thunderscout, with a slight sigh. "After what we went through last semester at the Academy I could use some quiet time."

        "Yeah..." said Energia, echoing his sigh.

        That brought questions about the attack on the school and the rescue effort. Which brought other questions about events on the island. Energia was surprised at how much the Young Guardians knew about the place... and how much of that was wrong in some way.

        "No, really, she's nice," said Energia, defending Moondance. "She was pretty spooky, at first, but that was more due to what her father did to her than her being a vampire. She's already opened up a lot. She and Glomahr are best buds. Moondance calls her 'wolf cub' and she calls Moondance 'mosquito.'"

        "Whoah, did you hear that?" said Gloria, suddenly sitting up and reaching for the remote. "High school music teacher told his students to write a report on the importance on Pachelbel's Canon. One kid handed in a paper on Taco Bell's Cannons, and got an F. So he reported the teacher for violating the school's zero tolerance policy on guns and got him fired."

        The volume went up just as a speaker for the school board started talking.

        "It wasn't just that he violated school policy," the man huffed. "He _argued_ with us! Showed no repentance or remorse at all! That attitude will not be tolerated. That's what zero tolerance means, after all. Not yielding, no matter what excuse someone has."

        The camera then cut to the aforementioned teacher at a news conference.

        "These people are teachers, for heaven's sake! They're supposed to know what homonyms are!"

        Another cut, back to the studio, where the vacuous female announcer stated that the teacher was suing the school board for exuberant stupidity.

                          *                         *                         *

        The next day saw the first of the tests to quantify what Thunderscout and Energia could do. The two had brought their evaluations from the Academy staff, but that didn't completely satisfy Blue Dagger.

        "We'll start with evaluating your offensive energy powers," he said to Energia.

        He handed her a pair of hearing protectors with a built-in com.

        "We were tested by shooting blasts through a MHD hoop," said Energia, as she slipped the protectors on.

        "I've heard of that, but it's non-standard," said Blue Dagger. "We use the older deflagration test. You shoot at a target of known properties and we measure the weight lost."

        "Okay," said Energia, shrugging.

        He opened a heavily armored door and gestured her in, following.

        "There's the target," he said, rather unnecessarily, pointing to a meter-wide block of precisely manufactured ablative. "You can see how the walls beyond it are a bit scorched. Missing won't hurt them - they're a special concrete used for military installations like missile silos - but try to keep it all on the target, so we can get an accurate measure."

        "Okay," said Energia, a bit timidly.

        He left and joined the others in the control room. They could be seen through the armored window to Energia's left. She was now securely ensconced in an armored room, the heavy door closed behind her.

        "All right," said the tech, over her headset, "unless you need to warm up or something, lets start with a maximum effort."

        "You sure?" said Energia, uncertainly. "For that I draw power from around me to build a full charge, and let it all go in one short blast."

        There was a bit of conferring in the booth.

        "Yeah, we'll measure your maximum continuous effort later. For now, just hit it with everything you've got."

        Energia took a deep breath. The lights dimmed and flickered, and she began glowing. She spent several seconds at this, getting rapidly brighter, taking in as much as she could comfortably hold, then raised her hands, wrists together. A bright spot formed between the heels of her palms. Then there was a blinding burst of energy and a deafening report.

        As the dust, smoke and grit settled, those in the control room shook off being stunned; they stared through the cracked armored glass window into the badly damaged testing chamber. The target was gone, except for a few pieces scattered around, mixed with chunks concrete showing reinforcing steel at the edges. All the lights in the test chamber were out. There was a jagged hole of inobvious depth in the wall behind the target mount.

        'Toon! mimed holding a phone to his head.

        "Call Reiji Matsumoto. Tell him we've found the prototype for the wave motion gun."

        "My God..." breathed the tech.

        "I am _so_ glad this chamber is deep underground," said Gloria, with a nervous laugh. "I just hope there's nothing with a basement in that direction."

        "Sorry," said Energia, looking over at the others with an embarrassed grin.

        "Are you all right?" said Blue Dagger, lurching forward to grab the microphone from the stunned tech.

        "I'm fine. They teach us to always keep some sort of protection up when we're doing big stuff, so I had my plasma wall at about half power."

        She waved a hand in front of her face and coughed.

        "Doesn't help much with the smoke, though. I'm about to sneeze."

        "Just come on out," said Blue Dagger. "Don't worry about the damage. Our techs love this sort of opportunity."

                          *                         *                         *

        The rest of the testing of both Energia and Thunderscout was performed much more cautiously. Thunderscout, it turned out, was very close to Gloria in ability. He was a little stronger, she a little faster, he a bit more resilient, she could hold her breath longer, and so forth. Energia kept surprising them with her level of power. She carefully didn't tell them that the power gene ran very strong in her family.

        Over the next several days the interns fell into a routine. After breakfast they would attend the morning briefing, then the morning training session. After lunch they had two hours of free time, then a sort of freeform exam, during which the regular team members quizzed them about various matters. Then the afternoon training session, supper, then the rest of the evening was free time.

        "This is turning out to be more like Summer school than a Summer job," said Energia, muttering, as she and Shadowsong headed for the girls locker room one afternoon.

        "Well, it's called an intern program for a good reason," the mystic replied, as she began stripping out of her training suit. "Besides helping you earn money for college and whatnot, the purpose of the program is to train future members of the Young Guardians. Who hopefully will go on to join the regular Guardians."

        "I just wish something would happen to break the routine," Energia said with a sigh. "This really is too much like school."

        "Some of us are going out to see _The Screaming Hand!_ tonight," said Annie, who had beaten them to the showers and was just exiting. "You're welcome to join us."

        Annie repeated her offer when the group gathered for supper.

        "I don't know if I want to deal with all the fuss of people seeing me out in public like that," said Thunderscout. "Not that I think I'm a big celebrity, or anything, but my costume does bear the family crest so it would be obvious I'm part of it."

        "No, it'll be plainclothes."

        "Uhm, you mean... without masks?" said Energia.

        "Oh, come on. We already have your photo and real name in the sealed portion our files, if we want to see what you really look like. What's the harm?"

        "But you're not supposed to except for an emergency," said Thunderscout, suddenly more than a little anxious.

        "What if someone recognizes you, Annie, and makes the connection?" said Blue Dagger, apparently not noticing the concern in Thunderscout's voice.

        "What are the odds of that happening?" said Fantasy Child, airily.

        "Well, considering something like that _has_ happened three times in the past..." Blue Dagger began.

        "Yes, but those were all villains specifically looking for connections to the team," said Annie, exasperated.

        "And there are several known bad guys with a grudge against the team out there who would be motivated to do it again," said Blue Dagger, pointedly.

        "You're no fun," said Annie, pouting.

        "Hey, it's not a problem for me," said 'Toon!.

        He morphed into a very realistic double of Annie.

        "I told you not to do that," said Annie, murder in her tone.

        "Look, I'd really like to go out with you guys, but, well, besides me I have family to protect," said Energia, edging away from the pair.

        "I could provide you with a disguise," said Blue Dagger. He looked around. "Any of you."

        "Watch out!" yelled 'Toon!. His - or her, or maybe Annie's - chest ballooned outwards. "He wants to stuff your bras!"

        "'Toon!" yelled Annie, advancing on him/her.

        "Okay, okay," said the morphic master, shifting back to his usual, Technicolor self. "Sheesh. I bet you're still mad about the time I replaced into your..."


        "Hairbrush," he finished, smirking.

        "I've had a couple of disguise courses," said Energia, moving closer to Blue Dagger, who was already standing well back from 'Toon! and Annie. "I'm not real good at it, though, and could use the practice."

        "Then I'd be glad to help," said Blue Dagger. "Gloria, would you be the chaperone?"

        "Gladly," said the tall, buff girl, circling warily around the feuding pair as she moved to accompany them.

                          *                         *                         *

        Three hours later, the group was walking away from the bus stop closest to the covert entrance to the Pillbox they had used to exit the structure. All were in a good mood, especially Energia. In spite of 'Toon!'s accusation, she was actually looking less endowed than usual. Since her costume already had padded cups, Blue Dagger had recommended going with her normal look upstairs. With low-heeled shoes, normal clothes, and a different hair style and no mask or costume, the visual connection to Energia was very marginal. After finishing with Jenny he had worked on Gloria. Someone who knew her could still see her public ID in the finished product, but only up close. He had then disguised himself, somewhat more thoroughly, and suggested they call him BD. He looked remarkably nondescript without mask and costume.

        Shadowsong had merely changed from her hooded robes to a mildly Goth set of normal clothes and undone her hair to let it fall freely around her shoulders. The degree of apparent change was startling, and more due to a difference in manor - posture, expression, general demeanor - than anything else. She requested being addressed as Deborah.

        'Toon! had converted to a realistic version of his normal self, and actually been on very good behavior the whole time. (Well, except for swallowing that hotdog whole...)

        "Just call me Walt," he said, winking.

        Thunderscout had needed some persuading, but finally relented, changed into normal clothes and accompanied them. They were calling him TS while in civvies.

        Finally, Annie had changed into more contemporary clothes and put her long hair in a ponytail. The difference wasn't as striking as Shadowsong's but anyone they encountered casually was still unlikely to make a connection.

        The group assembled in the lowest basement level, near the entrance to a tunnel leading to a nearby building. Several comments were made - many of them in a kidding tone - about how young both Jenny and "TS" looked. Then they set out.

        The movie, a martial arts action-comedy, turned out to be mildly entertaining. Mostly, they had simply enjoyed each others' company in a relaxed setting.

        "Okay, this is what Template was telling me was her favorite part of being a member of a super team," said Jenny, as they turned down a little-used side street mostly lined with empty lots and abandoned buildings. "The, uhm, comradery! That's the word."

        "This is, indeed, one of the rewards," said BD. "Communing with your peers."

        "Is that why you and Red Rapier first got together?" said TS.

        "We're both in the family business, actually."

        "So you're the son of the Red Rapier?"

        "We're cousins," said BD. "Both direct descendants of the original Le Rapière Rouge."

        "Hoo!" said Energia, grinning. "One of the first masked heroes! The Hero of the Revolution! That's a pretty big legacy you've got."

        "Something I know quite well," said BD, solemnly.

        "Brain on the scarecrow," sang 'Toon!, badly and loudly, "blood on the cow!"

        "Oh, God..." said Annie, rolling her pale blue eyes.

        "Where did _that_ come from?" said Gloria.

        'Toon! pointed up at an old flyer advertising a farm support concert.

        "And with that, I'm calling it a night," said Blue Dagger, opening the door in the side of a derelict building and holding it for the others. Beyond, instead of the inside of the building, were stairs leading down.

        "It's a night!" said 'Toon!, eagerly.

                          *                         *                         *

        "Went all 'splodey," said 'Toon!, pouting.

        "Are you all right?" said Energia, landing quickly beside him.

        "Oh, sure," he said, grinning and standing to symbolically dust himself off. He was now completely clean and unmarred. He even gleamed.

        This was her and Thunderscout's first real outing with the team, and it wasn't going well. A wreck had caused both a major traffic jam, hindering traditional emergency response teams, and also caused a load of hazardous chemicals to begin leaking. The team - primarily Gloria and Thunderscout, but with help from Shadowsong - had managed to get the semi-trailer containing the heavy plastic drums detached from the tractor and into a nearby empty lot, but then the leaking chemicals had reacted to something on the ground and started a grass and trash fire. Gloria and Thunderscout had peeled the top off the trailer to vent it and try to cool the containers in the hope they wouldn't catch fire, but then had to back off. Even though both could hold their breaths for several minutes and had impervious skin, the fumes were making their eyes water so badly they couldn't see what they were doing.

        'Toon! had hung in a little longer, working with Shadowsong and Annie to lift the plastic drums off the trailer and put them somewhere at a safe distance from the fire. The females used telekinesis and magical manipulation respectively from well back, while ‘Toon! simply lifted them at arms length - for him, about half a block. Unfortunately, one had caught fire and exploded while in transit, hurling the odd character away from the scene, to splat onto the side of a building across the street and dribble to the ground. Annie and Shadowsong had been knocked down by the blast and were being tended by Blue Dagger.

        Seeing 'Toon! was all right (well, as all right as he got) Energia flew back to the scene. The smoke was vastly worse, now, thick and heavy, lying low to the ground. Gloria and Thunderscout were back in the air but simply couldn't get close enough to remove the last few drums. Energia couldn't do much directly to the plastic containers, but she could definitely do something with the metal roof the others had removed. She lifted it, bent it and used it to scoop up the last of the drums. She dumped them on the ground away from the fire, then shoved the metal down on the blaze, smothering it.

        "Good work!" said Blue Dagger. "And here come the fire trucks. Hopefully, they'll have hazmat people with them."

        The team members were all checked over by the EMTs from the ambulances which accompanied the fire trucks. Fortunately, while the chemicals were caustic and their smoke irritating, there was not a long-term toxicity concern. A little sterile saline in the eyes and some tissues for the nose and Energia was fine. Some of the others needed a bit more treatment, but the Young Guardians and Energia were soon assembled to speak with the captain. That is, they would be as soon as Thunderscout arrived.

        "Where is he?" muttered Blue Dagger, looking vaguely around.

        "Over flirting with that really handsome EMT," said 'Toon!, smirking and mincing a bit. "From what I can see, the EMT is flirting right back."

        "You have got to be kidding me," said Blue Dagger.

        "Well, he's never come out and admitted it, but everyone at school knows he's gay," said Energia. "He's also over eighteen, even though he looks younger, so he can legally flirt with whoever he wants to."

        "There's no such thing as homosexuality," said Blue Dagger, flatly. "That's simply an excuse to engage in perversion."

        Energia had already learned to look over at Annie when she wanted more information in such situations, and did so now. The mentalist saw her, and rolled her eyes in a "yeah, he's nuts, but we love him anyhow" expression.

        They saw Thunderscout lift gracefully into the air from the other side of an ambulance, turn, and loft airily towards them, smiling.

        "Hey _FAG!_" came a derisive shout from one of the onlookers. "Why don't you wear a dress, so it's even _more_ obvious!"

        Thunderscout didn't seem to notice at first. He was actually just starting to look surprised as he landed. However, he began to get angry immediately afterwards. He glared towards the source of the jibe and made as if to move in that direction.

        "Don't," said Blue Dagger.

        Thunderscout scowled, but stayed where he was.

        "Want me to erase his cell phone's memory?" said Energia, not joking.

        "Wouldn't be enough," said Thunderscout, sourly. "Nothing we're allowed to do is enough."

                          *                         *                         *

        Later, back at the Pillbox, the girls of the team were talking about the incident and related matters in the locker room after showering to remove the last of the chemical smell from their bodies.

        "It's not just that he likes guys and not girls," said Annie, frowning as she tried to put her intuition into words. "Look, I know several gay guys. And they don't act like that. Well, not exactly like that. There are some similarities. But... his body language is wrong, his mannerisms are wrong. He's like a very good cross-dresser forgetting he's not in drag. Or a woman crossdressing as a man and occasionally forgetting. Same with his social interactions. They're just not... masculine. Not even for a gay man."

        Energia was startled. Now that Annie mentioned it, there was something... not quite in synch between the way Thunderscout spoke and moved and stood and with what he was supposed to be. Yeah, he was graceful, like a dancer, especially when he flew, but... there was more to it than that. Then, she shrugged.

        "I go to school with a vampire, an elf, a mermaid, a werewolf and a centaur," she said. "Compared to them, he's normal."

        Not mentioning that her uncle was also frequently her aunt...

                          *                         *                         *

        "I don't think I've been to an event this fancy before," said Energia, quietly.

        "Both we and the Guardians do a lot of public service work, including charity functions," said Blue Dagger. He gestured at the elaborate affair in progress around them. "You have to spend money to make money. In this case, put out enough top quality seed to attract the richest birds, so they'll donate to your cause. In this case, paying for low-gravity therapy to help crippled children."

        The event was being held in an elaborately decorated convention center hall. Several hundred people were present, milling around among the exhibits of art, science and history, all of them dressed to the nines. The Guardians' staff had helped Energia and Thunderscout assemble fancy, formal versions of their regular costumes. The Young Guardians already had such outfits.

        "I know that reducing the weight on someone after some types of surgery can help them recover," said Energia, curious, "but I though they could do that with antigravity machines these days. Why are there so many space-connected folks here?"

        "Who do you think first invented practical gravity manipulation?" said Gloria. "Most of the technology is licenced from the Lunies."

        "Major Thom himself will be attending," said Blue Dagger.

        "Wow," said Energia, softly. "The first modern man on the Moon..."

        "The Planetary Guardians and the Lunies have long and deep ties," said Annie. "Each sort of helped co-found the other. So when he asked if they could be here for escort duty, and they couldn't, they sent us, instead."

        "So, split up and mingle," said Blue Dagger. "Be sociable, but also keep an eye out for trouble. And if you need help, or just advice, use your minicoms."

        Despite the gala event Energia soon found herself bored. She was only fifteen, after all, and not really interested in matters of politics and business, much less conversing with all these old (well, older) people who kept asking her inane questions. Of course, that was a good thing, since she was supposed to be watching for trouble. At least this was during the day, if on a Saturday. She did appreciate the buffet table, though. She seemed to be having a growth spurt, complete with appetite.

        The keynote address was just starting in the auditorium when trouble actually did start. Somebody important (maybe the Mayor, she wasn't really sure) had just opened with a lame joke which sparked weak laughter in response, when there was a disturbance to one side.

        "Nobody move!" said a short, baby-faced man in a stylized Thirties gangster costume.

        Several security people immediately _did_ move, and promptly dropped twitching to the floor.

        "Little Seizure," murmured someone near Energia.

        "Okay, all of us involved in this heist have non-lethal ways to deal with those who don't cooperate. They won't kill you, so we won't be reluctant to use them, but they will make you feel pretty unpleasant! So play along, and we'll be gone in a jiffy! Otherwise, we'll put you out and take everything, anyway!"

        Energia now noticed several others in costume making themselves known around the edges of the room. Most of them were older masks, only one actually in her teens. Energia recognized ScrapeGoat and Atom Blond - the teen - but didn't have any real idea who the other two were. She did remember that Atom Blond was a brunette who wore a wig, that her powers had nothing to do with nuclear energy, and that she and Gloria were long-time enemies.

        As the villains began ordering people to hand over their jewelry and wallets, Energia tried to find one of the Young Guardians. She couldn't see any of them, but fortunately didn't have to.

        "Heads up," said Blue Dagger, over Energia's earbud. "I don't see anyone with them who can fly. Shadowsong, you move into position over by Rewind, but keep under cover. Annie, ditto with Little Seizure. 'Toon! move over to ScrapeGoat. I'll take Atom Blond. Let me know when you're in position. Gloria, Thunderscout, Energia, when I give the word, go as high as you can and keep watch. You're our backup. Don't get involved unless you have to."

        The team were pretty experienced, and moved into position in quick order. Then Blue Dagger gave the word and Energia launched herself into the air, flying straight up to just under the high ceiling of the auditorium. She could see Thunderscout to her left, and they exchanged waves. Gloria was off to the right, still rising.

        There was a flurry of activity in several spots below. Annie managed to get the drop on Little Seizure with a mental stun blast, but instead of fighting her he rolled off the stage and into the crowd below.

        Meanwhile, 'Toon! and ScrapeGoat were engaged in some sort of surrealistic battle which was warping the very fabric of reality. They both seemed to be having the time of their lives... which certainly couldn't be said of those around them.

        Blue Dagger seemed to have his hands full with Atom Blond, who was superhumanly strong and fast. Energia waited until the woman was momentarily in the clear and zotted her with a miniature lightning bolt. It didn't really hurt her, but it did distract her, and allowed Blue Dagger to gain a surprise attack.

        Thunderscout suddenly dove towards the crowd; Energia realized he was heading for Little Seizure. Unfortunately, he was spotted. Little Seizure stopped and glared at Thunderscout, who lost direction and body tension, tumbling in mid air for a bit before crashing into the floor hard enough to crack the marble. Little Seizure turned and resumed heading towards Shadowsong and Rewind.

        Energia knew Thunderscout probably wasn't hurt, and worried that Little Seizure would come up behind Shadowsong and take her by surprise. She dove, putting her plasma wall up at full power. Unfortunately, like Thunderscout before her, she was noticed. She extended a hand to zot Little Seizure, but he got her first.

        Energia lost control of both her powers and her body. The effect was not a true seizure, not even _petit mal_, but rather a form of hypnopompic disconnection of the consciousness from the body. She flailed around in the air, energy flying out in all d directions. Fortunately, her flight didn't simply cut off but faded, and her plasma wall lasted long enough to cushion her impact before bleeding away, the barrier of ionized air causing the wax on the stone floor to flash briefly into flame before both fire and plasma wall vanished.

        She lay there, dazed, for several minutes, gradually becoming aware of the concerned people around her, looking down at her but not actually doing anything. Considering the electrical display she'd just put on, she couldn't blame them for being cautious.

        Energia was just starting to collect herself when Blue Dagger arrived. He didn't look any better than she felt.

        "Ooooh," said Energia, needing three tries to sit up. "That didn't work."

        She glanced up, embarrassed, at Blue Dagger.

        "I heard his power was electrical and thought my plasma wall would protect me."

        "He causes disruption of the electrical activity in the brain," said Blue Dagger, "but his power is psionic. That's why I sent Annie after him. She is a mentalist, after all."


        "Are you hurt?"

        "Only socially," she said, muttering, remembering that phrase from something she'd heard Rapscallion say, once. "I'll need a few minutes to get back on my feet, though."

        "Take your time. None of us managed to catch any of them. They didn't get away with much, but they did get away."

                          *                         *                         *

        The event, not surprisingly, was cancelled. Or, rather, postponed, the new date to be determined later. That didn't mean they could leave right away, of course, since they still had to give their statements to the police.

        "I'd ask you to keep us advised," said Annie, sighing, "but after the poor showing we made I wouldn't blame you if you told us to keep out of this."

        "You didn't do too badly," said the detective who was dealing with the Young Guardians. "And the guards we had assigned did worse. From what someone overheard two of them saying, as they were fleeing, they knew you were here and thought they could handle you and still get everything they were after. Instead, they ran with only a few trinkets. So you definitely stopped most of what they had planned."

        "Any clues as to where they went?" said Blue Dagger.

        "No. They were seen heading up the stairs to the roof, and probably into Technaut's airship, but that thing is so stealthy that spotting it is just about impossible."

        "Wait," said Blue Dagger, obviously thinking of something. "That airship is visibly stealthy, but it still distorts light and images behind it. It's also noisy."

        "What are you getting at?" said Gloria, who was holding an ice pack to her head, thanks to Atom Blond blindsiding her when she went to help Shadowsong.

        "There's a chance they're still in the building. Think about it. Compared to the trophies and other exhibits in the main hall, the jewelry and cash they would have gotten here are pretty minor. Assume for a moment that all this was just a show, to convince us they'd wanted what the attendees were carrying and had fled when we came after them. Only their real target is more valuable, and they're just waiting for everyone to clear out, convinced they've already left."

        "Uhm, good point," said the detective. "Tell you what; after we finish here you folks pretend to leave, then start searching the building. I'll quietly alert my people to also check."

        They didn't even get that far. Within minutes, the detective suddenly got a call on his HT that the villains had been spotted in the hall, looting the exhibits.

        "Our captain says for you folks to go in first, while we organize," said the Detective.

        "All right, Guardians!" said Blue Dagger. "Let's move! And let's get it right, this time!"

        They charged into the hall less than a minute later. They didn't quite take the thieves by surprise - they seemed to know they had been spotted and were already clearing out with what they had already grabbed - but there was no ambush. The bad guys quickly fell back, carrying the contents of several displays with them. All except Rewind. For some reason he was holding his ground, near the stair doors at the rear, smiling.

        "Surrender," shouted Blue Dagger, as the team members ran and flew towards the reality alterer. "There's too many of us for you get us all before one of us gets you!"

        "You have no clue," said Rewind, his smile turning into a smirk. "After I recovered from what Gabriel Sheverda and his people did to me, I found that my powers had expanded. For example..."

        Energia suddenly felt disoriented. She dropped for the second time that night, only this time the feeling was very different. She felt hot, and the crotch of her costume was suddenly and uncomfortably tight, while her top was loose. She looked groggily around, and saw her teammates were all also having various difficulties. Thunderscout, bizarrely, seemed to have grown breasts, while Gloria was leaning against a display case, holding the top of _his_ costume up, since there were no longer breasts inside to do that job.

        "What if, during conception, one little thing had been different?"

        Laughing, he turned and ran, the Guardians unable for the moment to pursue him.

        The disorientation didn't last long. Energia climbed to _his_ feet, feeling more than a bit disconnected from reality. Having an uncle who frequently changed gender didn't make Energia's first time experiencing such a simple and yet fundamental alteration any easier. Some of his teammates, though, were recovering more quickly than the others.

        "How long does this last?" said Gloria, who had found a reflective surface and was posing and peering at his reflection. "I want to try peeing standing up."

        "It wears off in about an hour," said Blue Dagger, almost growling. That sounded more than a bit strange with her current, high-pitched voice. "_If_ this change works like his usually do."

        Thunderscout seemed the least affected, and was already back to business.

        "I'll see if I can spot where they're going," she announced, starting into the air.

        "No!" said Blue Dagger, sharply. "That's twice tonight we've messed up. We're all going straight back to our base before anyone sees us like this, and try to figure out what went wrong. Both times. You're especially not going off alone, like that!"

        "You're just mad 'cause she's better endowed than you," said Gloria, smirking. "Not to mention taller. Though I think you're definitely cuter."

        "Wait a minute," said Annie, glaring at 'Toon!. "Why are _you_ female?! You change shape anyway!"

        "D'oh!" said 'Toon!, slapping herself on the side of the head.

        She shifted back to his normal form, and began helping the others. Shadowsong was the most affected, appearing to be in shock.

        "What's the matter, hon?" said Gloria to his friend.

        "My... my powers... they only work for women," he replied, starting to sob. "For the first time since I got them... I don't have them! I'm... cut off from the mystic guides who help me!"

        "There, there," said Annie, putting a hand on the small young man's shoulder. "Remember what Blue Dagger said. It wears off."

        "But what if I change back, and the link's still broken?!"

        There wasn't anything they could say about that except make reassuring noises as they began sneaking out of the building.

        They managed to reach their nondescript van without being spotted and were soon back at the Pillbox. Blue Dagger called the police and reported that the thieves had escaped, using a voice modulator to sound normal. Then they sat down to wait. (Well, eventually; nearly all of them went off with one excuse or another to do some exploration of the situation.) Sure enough, within an hour and a bit of being changes they experienced another surge of disorientation and changed back to their original genders. To Shadowsong's great relief, her powers returned with her female form.

        "Now we just need to find them," said Blue Dagger, eyes blazing even through the polarized eyepieces of his mask.

        "Hey, we stopped them from whatever it was they were planning to do," said 'Toon!. "Twice! Why not just leave the rest to the cops? They'll call us if we're needed. My favorite show's coming on in twenty minutes."

        "We _failed_ to stop them," said Blue Dagger, with great determination. "We failed to prevent them from getting away with stolen goods. It doesn't matter that they didn't get as much as they planned to; we still didn't stop them or catch them. Until we do, our job is only half done. If we don't catch them that will only encourage more such acts."

                          *                         *                         *

        "Bored. Bored. Bored. Bored," said Energia, as she channel surfed. She wasn't using the remote, but simply pointing her finger at the huge plasma TV and pulsing infrared. "Oh! There's that music teacher in the news, again. The school board is countersuing for calling them 'homonyms.' Saying it's both racist and untrue."

        "I did warn you that we don't see many cases," said Annie, from the corner where she was using one of the building's computers to read her private e-mail. "With the whole police force working overtime looking for the Charity Robbers, crime in the city is 'way down. So things are even quieter."

        "Yeah, but at this rate school will start back before we catch them!"

        "The important thing is that we catch them," said Blue Dagger, entering the room. "And, no, there's still no word. I'm going down to the gym to train some. You two should, too."

        "Oh, don't give me that," said Annie, a bit testily. "I had a two-hour workout this morning, and am busy with something else, now. And it's something constructive, too."

        "I'll go," said Energia, sighing and lowering her finger. "Nothin' on, anyway."

                          *                         *                         *

        "Just three more days until school starts back," said Thunderscout, sighing. "And we still haven't caught those guys."

        Most of the team was early for lunch. With crime down and no sign of those who had attacked the charity ball, as well as a massive rescheduling of major public events for fear the criminals would strike again, there wasn't much for them to do outside the Pillbox. And there was only so much training a body could stand.

        "They're definitely laying low," said Gloria. "No surprise, after what they did to some of the most influential people in the state. Not to mention Major Thom and the Lunie Ambassador."

        "You'd think _someone_ would have spotted Technaut's airship by now!" said Thunderscout.

        "How can they hide something the size of a naval cruiser?" said Annie, frustrated. "If it were out in the open the arial searches would have found it, and the cops have searched all the buildings large enough to hold it."

        "No, they haven't," said Blue Dagger, as he strode quickly into the room. "Remember, the Big Dome Stadium is closed for renovations. Only work was stopped at the beginning of Summer for three months due to a contract dispute. I had forgotten completely about that; so had everyone else, until the police chief heard a couple of his officers talking wistfully about when it's expected to reopen. They've got people on the way there now, and want us to meet them at the main entrance to the stadium parking lot before they go in."

                          *                         *                         *

        "They must have spotted us," said the uniformed police officer who came running to meet them as the Young Guardians got out of the team van. "We heard the engines starting up just a few minutes ago, and before we could get over there the end of the stadium rolled open and they flew off, to the south."

        "All right," said Blue Dagger. "All you flyers, in the air. Gloria, take south; Thunderscout, north; Energia, west. 'Toon!, you go bird and head east. Just find them and report in!"

        "I thought you could fly, too," said Energia, looking over at the team's magic user.

        "I can levitate," said Shadowsong. "So can Annie. But that's slower and a lot more work than true flight, so we don't use it casually."

        "Oh..." said Energia. She nodded. "Right. Like Glomahr and some of the others at the Academy."

        "Go!" said Blue Dagger, emphatically, and a bit irritatedly.

                          *                         *                         *

        "I spotted them!" Energia yelled over her com. "They're over the ocean. Saw them completely by accident, as a flock of birds flew behind them. I'm afraid to look away!"

        "Keep on them," said Blue Dagger. "We're tracking your signal."

        "They're heading for international waters!" said Energia. "I only spotted them by accident; if they get out beyond the..."

        "Delay them if you can," said Blue Dagger. "But don't take any risks!"

        "Almost home free," said Little Seizure, smiling with satisfaction. That quickly twisted into a scowl. "Damn, this whole gig was a bust. Barely got enough loot to cover our operating costs. If Atom Blond hadn't let herself get seen..."

        He trailed off as Energia flew up in front of their craft, holding position, snarling, arms and legs starfished.

        "Wave motion effect," she said, in a normal, almost conversational tone.

        The lights on board flickered, dimmed, recovered a bit, then dimmed even more, barely glowing. The airship began slowing, and Energia began glowing.

        "D-do something!" said Little Seizure, grabbing ScrapeGoat. "She's to far away for me to stop!"

        "Out of my range, too," said ScrapeGoat. He looked over at Technaut. "You got anything?"

        "Nothing!" said the gadgeteer, shouting in frustration. "Nothing is working! She's stealing all our power, everything both generators can produce!!"

        "What we should be worried about," said Atom Blond, quietly, "is what she's doing with all that power."

        Energia moved her hands from out at her sides to in front of her, heels together and fingers pointed forward and out, the space between her palms glowing like the heart of a star.

        "Everyone down!" shouted Technaut.

        The horrible blast lasted less than a second, but the interval seemed much longer. What saved them was that she spread the beam out in a cone, to take in the whole airship. When it ended the antennas were melted to stubs, the paint was smoldering, the armored windows blackened and smoking. Energia sagged, dropping almost to the wave crests before recovering. The engines were stopped, the now very visible ship slowing as its momentum was scrubbed away by the air. There were multiple crackling and popping sounds in the relative silence which followed the blast. And the hiss of escaping gas.

        "We're going down!" said Technaut. "Slowly, but we're going down."

        "Surrender, already!" said Little Seizure, almost screaming. "I can't swim!"

        They managed to force one distorted window open and ScrapeGoat frantically waved his white handkerchief.

                          *                         *                         *

        Gloria and Thunderscout arrived soon after to help tow the slowly sinking airship to land. Besides the rest of the team, what looked like the entire police force was on hand to take the villains into custody.

        Atom Blond at least had planned on fighting her way out. However, after jumping from the descending ship and seeing just how much firepower was arrayed against her, she got wise quick and meekly held her hands up.

        "Good work," said Blue Dagger, to Energia. He looked up at the others. "All of you, but especially Energia. You're definitely on our list for next year's interns, and have a good shot at the permanent team once you're old enough."

        "I was actually just wanting to ruin their cloaking system," said Energia, a bit embarrassed. "Then I saw they were dead in the air and sinking, and someone was waving a white flag, and figured maybe I better take advantage of the situation."

        "Remember that we prize flexibility," said Blue Dagger. "And initiative."

        "Good work, Energia," said Thunderscout, giving her a hug which was just a bit too enthusiastic.

        "Whoof!" said Energia. "Easy, guy. I might need those ribs."

        "So, what do we do with this thing?" said 'Toon!, looking up at the sagging airship.

        "It'll be confiscated and sold at auction, most likely," said Blue Dagger.

        "Oooh, new team vehicle!"

        "No," said Annie, firmly.

        "Awwww..." said 'Toon!.

                          *                         *                         *

        Energia sighed as she looked around the empty room. She'd been enthusiastic about coming here, and a bit disappointed at times with the reality during her stay, but now was genuinely regretting the two months being over.

        "Come get cake!" 'Toon! called, from the stairs.

        "Before he eats it all," Shadowsong called up from out of sight.

        Energia laughed and hurried down the hall, starting at a trot and taking to the air. She smacked 'Toon! playfully on the shoulder as she went by.



        He almost caught her, but she made it all the way into the dining room without being tagged back. Thunderscout and the rest of the Young Guardians were already there, the cake sliced and pieces out on decorative paper plates.

        "Well, I've just had some news," said Thunderscout. "I got accepted to the college of my choice. In my civilian ID, I mean. So, sorry, but I can't tell you which college."

        "Congratulations!" said Annie, hugging him and giving a frosting-glossed kiss on the cheek.

        "Back to the Academy, for me,” said Energia.

        "We - both the Planetary Guardians and the Young Guardians - have agreed to make appearances for guest seminars and special training sessions out there this term," said Blue Dagger. "So you will be seeing us again, soon."

        "Oh, goody," said Shadowsong. "Heat, humidity, bugs and sand."

        The others laughed, then got down to some serious cake eating. For several moments after all was silent except for the sounds of ingestion. Then Energia stood.

        "Before we get too high on sugar, I want to thank you folks for this experience."

        "To this batch of interns!" said 'Toon!, raising his tumbler of milk. "It was a good year!"

        "Hear, hear," said Blue Dagger, reciprocating.

        Energia and Thunderscout both had the good grace to blush.


      This document is Copyright July 2006 by Rodford Edmiston Smith. Anyone wishing to reprint this or post it on a Web page must get permission from the author, who can be reached at: stickmaker@usa.net This specific page may be linked to without permission.