Legion of Lawndale Heroes – Volume Two
Chapter 12.1 - 'The Wild And The Young'
No one who knew either Kyle Armalin or Alexandra Griffin
would have, or could have, believed that the relationship they shared was
anything more - or less - than that of Master and apprentice.
This is most effectively shown in the photograph of the two taken at the U.S. Academy of Extranormal Studies, where both are seen wielding Armalite PFT-M3 CC2 'force batons' , which to untrained eyes look like the ubiquitous 'lightsabers' of Star Wars fame. The pose that Armalin and Griffin are caught in, and the way they hold their weapons, is eerily similar to the image of Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, the first time they ignite their weapons.
Still, proponents of the 'Armalin/Griffin were lovers' theory (or 'Kandi' shippers, as they refer to themselves) point to several inconsistencies in their relationship. Those points have been refuted at great length elsewhere; it is not necessary to do so here.
However, one point should be addressed again, because it is not one of the more salacious points that the media has glommed upon to a great extent. With the knowledge that Daria Morgendorffer had psionic powers and the fact that he had possessed such powers at one time himself - why, then, would Armalin's attention be focused upon Griffin and not Morgendorffer, who clearly seemed to need the added attention more?
Again, the answer is obvious to anyone who knew Armalin. As a career Marine officer, and of a past that easily rivals the exploits of any cinematic or literary adventurer, the choice between the two young women was clear; so, too, was the path that led Griffin to Armalin's side. Armalin's attitude towards educating the young was legendary; he felt that either the trainees wanted to be there, or they did not deserve to be there.
Griffin wanted to become more than she was. She wanted to become a better person, and wanted to explore the depths of her abilities and potential more than Morgendorffer ever did. She simply wanted it more than her fellow Legionnaire, and because of this, Armalin one day called her to walk by his side as she learned.
She would remain there until, in the fullness of time, she proved herself to have learned what she knew to honor his teachings on the field of battle. To everyone's surprise - that day was not long in coming...
Always, There Are Two by John-Richard Marshall, PhD
Many have commented that the biggest advantage of Legion
training versus more formal training programs is the creative approach
Legionnaires bring to problem solving. They say Legionnaires 'think outside the
box.' I disagree. Legionnaires don't think outside the box. They don't know there
is a box.
Inside The Tower, by K. M. Sherrie
"By the way, Miss Morgendorffer – I understand that you didn't mention to your sister that, in order to fool me, you actually did spend three days at that little spa in Arizona... before you sneaked away to join up with that National Legion group heading into New Orleans."
No, sir, I didn't," Quinn Morgendorffer said, a touch of smirk that Kyle Armalin recognized as being a Morgendorffer trait appearing on her face. "She didn't need to know that I had just a tiny bit of fun before I got some work done..." Or that I got Juan-Carlo's phone number, if I ever happen to pass that way again... and since he's going to be starting up a Legion chapter in Tempe – once I talk to the others about that tiny little change to the Legion Constitution...
"Or that you're better at being
sneaky than she is," Kyle replied, looking down at the small hard-shell case on
the table next to him. He looked around the firing range, then back up to
looking at Quinn and Sandi Griffin. "Good call. Ladies, as the leaders of the
Legion, I wanted to talk to you about a couple of things – and as they're
related to this area, I asked you to meet me down here."
"You're giving us a new weapon to test, Colonel?" Sandi asked, smiling in a way that made Quinn slightly uncomfortable.
"No, not 'test' – but that's later. First, there are a couple of membership matters I'd like to discuss with you in a strictly advisory capacity. Obviously, I have no authority on your internal operations, as to who stays, goes, or how you run your chapter of the Legion. I only have authority over the training cadre and Legion matters directly related to that."
The girls nodded. "First – there's Taylor. Upon joining, she was given the option of a specialized training regimen, as you all were – and she chose paramedic training. Unfortunately, Miss Taylor doesn't have the... appropriate skill set for her to complete the training in a satisfactory manner."
He just called her an idiot in the most polite way that I've ever seen, Quinn thought, as Armalin continued.
"However, after speaking with the heads of the training cadre, we think that there's an alternate avenue that she may wish to consider," he finished. "The general consensus is that Miss Taylor would make an excellent infiltration and intrusion specialist – with her powers, her skills and he looks, she could go places few others could, and just as easily, get back out again."
"You want us to talk to her about asking her to change over." The way Sandi spoke made it clear that Armalin's phrase wasn't a request.
"No, tell her everything. She's frustrated in medical training, she's frustrating her instructors, she hasn't really learned anything... if I can give you a piece of advice on as how to approach the subject, start with talking about the sparring match she had with me some time back." Armalin remembered it well – he wasn't ashamed at all of his skills or training in the martial arts – but he knew that if that had been a REAL fight, he would have had to work at killing her (using his skills) or use his metahuman abilities to subdue her without harm. Taylor was really that good, easily in a class with that red-haired cheerleader-turned-special assignments-type from Middleton, he remembered. She just needs some polishing up...
"When you talk to her, you also need to use those Fashion Club talents that the two of you have and find out about getting her some personal items that will help her with her exercises and field work – for example, the bras that she wears."
Kyle ignored the looks on the girls' faces. "This doesn't have anything with being a pervert, ladies – it's about keeping your operatives combat-effective. Anyone with eyes can see that Miss Taylor's... endowments... are causing her some discomfort during exercise sessions and doing her roadwork. There are a number of, shall we say, special establishments that deal with clothing for people in this field... and undergarments capable of reducing Miss Taylor's distress are available... and in reasonable prices which the Legion stipend you all receive should easily cover, although I'd recommend that these be covered under 'equipment costs'. For some of the more, shall we say, 'mundane or exotic' clothing choices – those would have to be purchased out of pocket, unless they were to be used for Legion purposes."
"What kinds of clothing?"
"The type I think you'd have wished you were wearing when that Black Majesty character dropped by," Armalin said. "Unstable molecules' – long story short, it's a process for creating clothing that can be used to respond to your powers as your own body does, without being damaged or destroyed when you use your powers."
"So I can use as much electricity as I wanted and my clothes won't burn away, or Brittany could turn invisible and her clothes would, too?"
"Or Charles could turn into an elephant or a sparrow, and his clothes would disappear during the transference but reappear when he returned to human form." Armalin noticed the looks of distaste on the two girls faces... and decided to bite the bullet. "Okay, that is another subject that I might as well touch upon, because it leads to something else I wanted to talk about. Yes, Charles has – in the past – been someone who hasn't been up to your high standards for what a man is in the eyes of women such as yourselves, with such sophisticated, well-educated and worldly experiences and tastes..."
Quinn and Sandi flinched as Armalin's Fujita-scale irony struck them as he had intended.
"...But need I remind you that he happens to have several things that you do not. First, he's from a wealthy background, so the funding of the Quest Corporation is not something new to him and therefore, he's able to more effectively move through the use of such resources – as you found out, Miss Griffin. Second – and not to put too fine of a point on this, because sometimes, some people need to be shocked out of their complacency zones – he's more intelligent than the both of you put together... and that goes for even when you access your enhanced intellect, Miss Griffin. He's been doing college-level studies online since your return from your vacations, as well as beginning flight training for jet aircraft. He'll be the first of you to fly the Gridrunner, sometime in the middle of next year... and let me tell you something – he'll be flying at eighteen what most commissioned officers and civilian pilots wouldn't be allowed near at thirty."
Sandi had nothing to say, remembering the piece of conversation she had with her teammate in Alaska; Quinn's eyes went wide as she absorbed the insult fully. "If he really wanted it and came to me to ask for help in doing so, I can almost promise you that Charles would be a cadet to any of the military academies that he wanted to attend, or he could attend an Ivy League school starting in January. "Third – with the possible example of you, Miss Griffin, Charles has progressed the most of ALL Legionnaires in his physical training regimens since he began his training. You don't notice him because he spends more time in the weight room and with the free weights in his own quarters – and because you've all spent so many years looking at him as a piece of crap."
Armalin let his words sink in. "He's a fellow Legionnaire, he more than pulls his load, he has an unique set of abilities that could get him in anywhere in the world and which he hasn't used in a untoward or unethical manner since his arrival OR your sister's talk with him – which we're also about to talk about. He is easily one of the best pieces of publicity that your Legion could have; the fact that you collectively feel he's as appealing as a piece of mold-covered piece of bread is one that you alone share, because it appears that many other young ladies find him interesting. If you keep going as you are, you're going to lose credibility. No one said that you had to invite him in for slumber parties, but give him the respect he's earned as a member of your team. LAY OFF THE 'UPCHUCK' CRAP."
He knew that he had hit them harder than he needed to on that, and normally, internal teen politics was beneath his notice, even here – but he needed to bring that out into the open and make them aware that they had shortcomings there which needed to be corrected... because now, he was going to hit Quinn where she lived...
"That being said – what are you going to do about your sister?"
The calm way he said it really shook Quinn. "Wha-what do your mean?"
"Your sister needs a serious reality check on the way she views and uses her powers," Armalin said. " She's threatened to use her powers against both male members of your team if they do what she herself has done on at least two occasions – which is to use her powers against someone for unethical purposes. The second is her using her power to enter Miss Chambers' mind as she was dreaming, and you were planning on telling me what your sister did to you – as well as about your meeting with The Doctor down in New Orleans, right?"
"He wasn't sure that you wanted any of them to be around Legion people – that's what he said," Quinn told him.
"He helped you with what could have been a problem – that makes him okay in my book," Armalin spoke up, then his eyes narrowed. "Something else, Miss Morgendorffer?"
"I talked to a couple of people at Old Stanley's," Quinn told him. "Did you REALLY trash an entire football team and a lot of other people at a drive through when you were in high school... and over an order of French fries?"
Sandi's eyes went incredibly
wide as her head swiveled from Quinn to Armalin.
"It was a 'drive-in. That was a long time ago, Morgendorffer – and it was over an order of steak fries, which I never did get. I was also defending myself-"
"What's the 'Porterhouse Challenge?"
"Something you will NEVER ask me about again. Back on target... your sister has a proclivity to use or threaten to use her power on people based on her personal wishes and desires instead of actual need. That has to stop."
"What do you want us to do?" Sandi asked, as she mentally filed 'Porterhouse Challenge' away in the back of her mind. "Punish her, or kick her out, or what?"
"Your Legion has a Constitution – look through it and take care of your own messes!" he responded. "However, I do have a slight suggestion or two on that... I need to make a phone call or two, and I'll get back with you. Going all the way back around, though – I'll have a couple of the Quest Corp people from the Special Projects Division come in this week with some of your uniforms made from the material, and to discuss making outfits as well. They'll go into some of the details on what you can expect with items made from unstable molecules."
Armalin opened the hard-shell case. "Now – on to more pleasant matters – especially for you, Griffin. You've already done your qualifications with this."
Sandi's eyes lit up as she saw the devices in the case – two small devices that looked like garage-door openers or miniature alarms, two baton-shaped devices just under a foot long, and two pistol-shaped weapons. "You're training everyone on PFT weapons...?"
"In your case, Griffin – I'm issuing PFT weapons," he said, taking one of the batons from the case and handing it to Sandi. "A Mark Four PFT - for field use."
As Sandi took the device offered to her from Armalin, Quinn looked between the two with confusion. "What are those?"
Armalin was about to answer when the red light above them went off; the three turned to see Tom Sloane watching them from inside the viewing room, standing behind a window made of crystal clear, bulletproof plastics. "Right on cue, Sloane," Armalin spoke, waving the young man inside. "This is a PFT – point-force transference – weapon. This fires a pulse of energy that delivers high-level concussive force to a very small area on the target, but instead of delivering the energy upon impact - it transfers the force through the initial layer of material... skin, clothing, armor, a door and so forth, even forcefields - and delivers the full effect from the other side. Don't ask me about the trans-dimensional physics involved that make it work, either – it would take me an hour to explain and I'd probably get some of it wrong. Basically, think of it as an energy version of an armor-piercing weapon, but with technically non-lethal effects... on lower settings. Even on it's lowest setting, it'll knock a person for a serious loop."
"Hey," Tom said, walking into the range. "So, what's up?"
"I need you to help with a demonstration," he said, lifting the other baton-shaped PFT from the case. "Please go invulnerable and put this on."
Tom's face took on an uneasy look as he saw the bulletproof vest that Armalin had sitting next to the hard-shell case. "You're going to shoot at me...?"
"Not with a gun – and you're invulnerable, remember?" Armalin growled, Tom's tone annoying him. "Put this on – it's for the demonstration."
Still uneasy, Tom put the vest on and began to walk down the lane in which Armalin had placed a target. "Walk about another twenty-five feet further down," the Marine growled, his thumb flicking a switch on the second PFT baton to the eleventh setting and locking it down. "Okay, that's good, Sloane. You've gone hard?"
"Yes, sir," Tom said, blushing slightly as the girls beside Armalin smirked; he really wished that the Marine would use another term to describe him becoming invulnerable. "Ready."
Faster than any of the teens would have believed, Armalin brought the PFT up and fired six pulses so quickly that they seemed to be the same blast – and Tom didn't even have enough time to shriek before he was blasted down the length of the range (a full 150 feet) like a leaf and into the backstop (a full nineteen inches of omnium armor) with enough force to leave a VERY well-defined, upside-down Tom Sloane-shaped imprint in the metal. "OH MY GOD-!" Quinn screamed, jumping back before the sound of Tom's impacting the wall had faded away. "You KILLED him-!"
Armalin turned to give Quinn a look of ultimate dismissal, noted that Sandi's eyes were wide – but that she didn't move from her spot - and then looked back as Tom fell away from the imprint he'd made in the wall. He stood gaping at the impression of his form in the armor plate for several seconds, and then looked back at Armalin with a look of absolute awe on his face. "THAT – WAS – FREAKING – AWESOME!!!" he yelled, total boyish giddiness in his voice. "I have GOT to get one of those-!"
"Perhaps," Armalin promised, his annoyance with Tom fading somewhat. "If you can manage to do better on your physical qualifications – without using your powers."
"Not a scratch – but if I wasn't invulnerable, I'd be raspberry jelly now," he said, walking back. "What is that thing...?"
"That's a PFT on its highest setting – with several shots placed just right," Armalin said, deactivating the weapon. "That's why you want to be sure that you always check your settings before you fire, and they're designed with an activation default, so that they won't fire past Setting Four unless you actively use the setting switch."
"Why Setting Four?"
Armalin looked over at Sandi, who'd been silent and watching. "Because your average person can survive a hit on Setting Four without any permanent damage – they just won't wake up for several hours. Think of getting hit by Mike Tyson, but with him pulling his punch."
Tom winced as he arrived at the table. "Ow. My dad took me to Vegas to see him fight once. That would hurt."
Quinn looked at the PFT in Sandi's hand, and took a slight step behind Armalin. "Do they fire like that – one blast?"
"That was four pulses – I'm just quick on the trigger," Armalin replied. "PFT's can fire single pulses – as fast as you press the firing button – or you can set it to fire a number of pulses, and at several rates of fire. The highest rate of fire – well..."
Armalin tapped another button, raised the PFT towards the backstop, and the Legionnaires' mouths dropped open as the metal flashed and rang with a flurry of energy pulses connecting! "Oh... wow," Sandi spoke.
"You could do some damage with one of these," Armalin told them. "The power cell holds enough charge for 200 pulses at Setting Eight – that's your first lethal setting. Think of getting hit by a car at fifty miles an hour. At Setting Eleven – your highest setting - you'll have twenty pulses, and down on Settings One and Two – the ones you would use for normal people and small animals to knock them back or out for a bit – you're effectively unlimited... about 1500 pulses. The PFT can recharge the power cell, and plug into even a common power socket to recharge or fire from – although it would be funny to see someone using this with an extension cord attached."
A buzzing came from the Marine's jacket pocket, and he fished his phone out. "Armalin," he spoke. "They're here... all right. I'll be up in a moment."
He put the cell phone away. "I have a meeting."
Quinn's ears perked up. "About Mack?"
The Colonel sighed. "Yes, about Mackenzie."
"So, when can we go and talk to him? When are you going to take him out of 'the cube?"
"Morgendorffer - Mackenzie's power is a bit more... prone towards 'collateral damage' than the rest of your powers were when you first manifested," he said, glancing towards Tom. "For example, Mr. Sloane here simply flew up into the air, hovered there and vomited, whereas Mr. Mackenzie's first manifestation was an uncontrolled burst of illumination that was later calculated at just over five million candlepower... or bright enough to light up the entire side of a mountain as though it were daytime. Imagine if that had been his flame power manifesting, or his heat blasts... we could have easily lost the entire county in a massive firestorm."
"So he has to stay in there?"
"It's in his best interests for the moment," he told Quinn. "That's what this meeting is about. If everything goes well, he could be out and about before lunch."
"Sir – does this mean that he'll be joining us in the Legion?" Sandi asked
"Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't Mackenzie already in the National Legion?" Armalin asked, using the term that was beginning to be used for people in the Legion but not members of the Lawndale chapter – meaning that they didn't have powers. "As to him becoming a 'Legionnaire' – this is your organization, not mine. That's your decision."
"Well, he does have a power nobody else has... he's a nice guy... and we could use another boy around here..."
"I'm glad that you have such stringent standards for accepting members, Morgendorffer," the Colonel said, his sarcasm passing over the girl's head. "I'll speak to you later. Griffin, go ahead and show them the basics on the PFT."
As the Colonel started away, Quinn's voice turned him around. "So, we can go down and see him?"
"Morgendorffer – this is your facility and your program. I'm running the training, and occasionally, there's something that I'm going to need. I can't tell you what to do or where to go – I can and will make suggestions, and every now and then – I will tell you what to do... but if I do, it's because I'd like you to live to see the next day. If you want to go and see a friend of yours who's been staying in your basement for four days... just go and do it. His girlfriend and his parents have been down to see him – why haven't you? Show him your powers – let the boy know that he's not all alone!"
"So, Mack... did you want anything else?"
"Man, I'm full," Mack Mackenzie said, taking a last drink of his iced tea. "Do the Legionnaires always eat this good?"
"Yeah, the cafeteria's stuff is usually first-rate," Trent Lane replied, watching Mack from the visitor's area of the observation chamber he was in. "Tonight's spaghetti was really good, and the salmon patties from yesterday rocked. They also don't mind if you raid the fridge for leftovers.'
Mack's voice rang clearly from the speaker in the wall next to the massive door to the chamber. "Is there any more of that oxtail soup from Tuesday left?"
"I can check," Trent told him. "Hey, did the Colonel or Mr. Sloane tell you how long you'd have to be in there? I mean – you're basically in a vault, and this window's as thick as a couple of engine blocks, end to end."
"Until they're sure that I'm not going to blow up like a bomb or something, I guess," came the surprisingly calm reply. "Did Jodie bring my homework yet?"
"I'll check," Trent promised. "Man, you're really chilled about all of this."
"From what they've told me, I'm surprised that I'm actually alive," Mack said. "Check this out."
Trent averted his eyes as Mack's raised left hand started to shimmer, and a burst of pure golden light shone forth to fill the room – and the viewing portal immediately darkened to protect the vision of anyone in the adjoining chamber. "For the past week, ever since I woke up on the floor in Ms. Barch's lab, I can... glow," he said, dampening down his output and watching the portal go clear again. "I can project light – either all around me, or like a flashlight – like a beam, from my hands, eyes, even out of my mouth like that Lo Pan guy in Big Trouble in Little China. Want to see something really wild, though?"
Mack stood up and went to the middle of the large chamber, decorated like a very nice bedroom, and turned to Trent. "A couple of days ago, I was eating a hot dog, and thinking about how I like a bit of scorch marks on 'em, like you get in real life but how you don't ever see on TV? Anyway, look what I started doing with my hand..."
He held up his right hand, and it was immediately sheathed in gold and scarlet plumes of flame! "This is so cool," he said, leaving a circle of flame in the air as he traced a circle with his finger. "It doesn't even burn – I don't feel it! Look at this-!"
Mack closed his eyes, as if to concentrate – and a sheet of flame immediately flowed over his body like a waterfall! "It's even better," he continued, beginning to rise up into the air several inches over the spot where he had stood – and Trent noticed that the carpet wasn't even scorched. "I have no idea how I'm doing it – but I can fly! I've tried it out a couple of times, and I can fly all around the room – it's like I've been doing this my entire life!"
Trent suppressed a touch of jealousy as he watched Mack take a quick and controlled spin around the room, twirling in a spin and doing a couple of fancy little loop-the-loops before setting down in front of the viewing portal. "I can do it without the flames, too – it gets kind of boring, so I played around with it – that's how I figured out that I can do the heat alone, without the flames – I guess I heat up the air around me when I fly and become lighter than air... I bet that I can go like a rocket by burning the oxygen and hydrogen in the air beneath me – Man, I can't wait to try this out!"
He seems much cooler about
this than some of the others did...
"Yeah, pretty cool," he said. "Sucks about Barch, though."
Mack immediately powered down, a somber look on his face. "Yeah. Jodie went to the funeral. They had a casket, even though there wasn't a body..." His voice trailed off. "Mr. O'Neill's messed up over it. He really cared about her."
"Yeah and I guess she really cared about him."
Trent thought about the news through the grapevine about the monster settlement that the Sloanes made with O'Neill – the insurance, funeral costs, and a boatload of money so he'd go away and not sue... even with the other rumor that she had deliberately sabotaged something so everything would go wrong... was she crazy enough to get herself killed to kill off some guy?
Yeah. She was.
"So, you showed Jodie?"
"Mr. Sloane asked me not to," Mack told him, "but the Colonel said that all of you were okay to tell. So – all of you have powers? That's why you haven't been doing things on the national level lately – you've been training?"
"Not me," Trent said blithely, "I just got a job here as chief gopher. Everybody else..."
"Man – Daria and Quinn Morgendorffer with super-powers. That's gotta be something – and Sandi Griffin... Brittany Taylor has super-powers."
Mack shook his head. "That's really messed up. What can she do – pick up garbage trucks... fly... spit acid... read people's minds?"
"Uh... I don't know, dude," Trent said. "If the Colonel hasn't told you, or if they haven't come down and talked to you..."
"Hey, big bro!" a familiar voice from behind rang out, and Trent turned to see his sister walk into the area. "The cafeteria people told me that you were down here with the new prisoner!"
"Hey, Janey," Trent said, hugging Jane Lane as she went up to him. "You just got back?"
"Yeah, I stayed up in Anchorage to help Langston kick-start an Alaska chapter of the Legion," she said, sitting down in a chair before looking at Mack and waving playfully. "Hey, Mack. I really like your fishbowl."
"You've been hanging out with Daria too long," Mack said, a big grin going across his face as he returned the smile. "Sounds just like her."
"I don't know... there's just some things that Daria wouldn't do that I have. Didn't we go out once?"
"Yeah – to Pizza Forest, and we were both eleven," he cracked. "Your sister's a weird girl, Trent – she sings along with large forest creatures and runs people off from her table."
"You stayed there."
"Hey – free pizza! I wasn't going anywhere, and my father sounds worse when he sings along with Morris Day and The Time every time Purple Rain comes on – he mangles 'Jungle Love'!"
"You just thought I was cute."
"I was eleven. Pizza's more important than girls when you're eleven."
"What about now?"
Trent failed to stop a laugh from escaping, and he coughed afterward. "Good one, Mack."
Jane took a deep breath, and swung herself around fully to face Mack. "I talked to the Colonel while I was up there – he told me about what happened," she said. "You can project light and flames?"
"Light, flames and heat – like a miniature sun," Mack replied. "From what they said happened at the lab, they said that I can absorb radiation, too – and that none of that affects me. Over the last few days, I figured out that I can fly, and I can control the light and flames – how much, how intense... even the size of the beams..."
"Really? How small can you make them?"
"Ever see that movie Real Genius?"
"Move back from the window..."
Both Jane and Trent moved away from the window, and Mack concentrated for a moment, squinting...
A thread-thin beam of light shot out from his left eye, making a perfect circle as it cut through the eight feet of transparent aluminum that made up the viewing portal. "Not bad, Mack," Jane said. "I bet the others were doing flips."
"I... nobody else has been down here to see me," he replied slowly, and for the first time, Trent noticed that Mack seemed a little depressed. "I guess that somebody told them not to."
'We'll see about that," Jane promised. "Nobody's been here to see you?"
"No, Jodie's been here, and my parents, Mr. Sloane, and a couple of doctors from the Quest Foundation..."
"You'll have visitors in a little while – I promise," Jane said, a sharp tone in her voice. "Did the Colonel at least ask you if you wanted to join the Legion?"
"I'm already in the Legion, Jane."
Jane sighed; Mack's eyes widened in amazement as the eight-foot long tube of transparent aluminum shuddered slightly, rolled a quarter-turn, and then slid easily from the block it sat in. As Mack and Trent watched in amazement, the tube rotated end-over-end slowly through the air as it did a complete orbit of the visitor's area, then slid back into the opening...where, to Mack's complete surprise, the block resealed itself as though it had never been cut.
"Yes... but now - would you like to be a Legionnaire?"
Mack's mouth opened, closed, and opened again with no sounds coming out.
"Yeah. That's the second guy that I've done that to lately," Jane smirked, thinking of Tom and their sparring session. "I've got it..."
Behind her, Trent watched the expression on Mack's face, and despite himself, felt a touch of jealousy spark through him...
Alexander Graham smiled with glee as he sat down, his mind racing into blurs of insight and conclusion that he had never dreamed possible...
...Before the four members of The Elite had unlocked his gift.
There was a price to be paid, of course. He found that out three days ago, when his parents arrived at Grove Hills Preparatory Academy unexpectedly on his eighteenth birthday, and ordered him to pack for a trip to New York City. Hey, anything for a trip to the Big Apple...
His parents seemed slightly unnerved throughout the trip, from the flight, to the limo ride deep into Manhattan, to the unusually long time that they sat in the extraordinarily ornate office they had made their way to... but he wasn't afraid.
I am Alexander Milhous Graham. I don't have to be afraid of anything. Yes, my body is not as strong as some of them... and yes, the girls aren't chasing after me because I can hold a stitched piece of animal skin and stuffing in a certain way and lumber all over a patch of grass or up and down a gym floor – but years after those lumbering apes are limping along up the path towards their homes in the suburbs after a day of putting pegs in holes, looking forward to sucking up a Salisbury steak and carrots with beer before a few hours of the idiot box before going up and rubbing against the former head cheerleader for about three minutes (because that's all you can manage anymore)... I'll be sitting in my multi-million dollar home on my own island, with a multi-billion dollar corporation at my fingertips and the President of the United States on my cell phone's speed dial.
I don't have to be afraid of anyone. So what if there are more of them than me? It's the Microsoft Conjecture – 'Numerical superiority by a product or species does not, simply by benefit of its current state of existence, necessarily imply a fundamental, cultural or even technical superiority over any other. It is simply a recognition of the aggressive and all-consuming nature of that product or species in relation to all others within its environment, and its willingness to use all means necessary to achieve apex predator status within.'
You're not better than me. It's not even that you're stronger, faster or got here first. You just have larger numbers... and will do anything to stay on top – well, where you believe 'the top of the ladder' is.
He looked at his parents again, and shook his head. You have superpowers – you're members of this 'Elite'! Why are you so afraid? Dad, you're a telekinetic – you can toss a bus with your power, or catch every bullet from a machine gun someone shoots at you, or pick a lock from a mile away! Mom – you can teleport all over the world! Why didn't you tell me what you could do – why didn't you use it to make more money than you could ever spend? Why didn't you two use the money to go off on cruises, so the two of you could be happy and do whatever, and just... just... why couldn't you just find a way to be happy together?
The doors opened; his parents rose from their seats like soldiers, and Graham looked over their worried faces with a measure of distaste that he actually kept from his face before he stood and looked over the four persons who entered the room.
One of the two men who entered the room was a short, yet sturdy man in his late fifties, of obvious Slavic ancestry; the other was a slender, small man of Korean descent. The first woman was no taller than either man; she had olive skin, a mane of thick raven hair and brown eyes so large that they reminded him of the characters in the Japanese anime that he was fond of, and a posture that could only be referred as 'coquettish'.
The other woman, who stepped forward to speak, couldn't have been ignored in a mass riot. She was beautiful, of a type only seen in supermodels and starlets who have roles as the girlfriend or trophy wife of the film's hero; easily six feet tall, with flaxen hair cut and styled in a short, severe and yet very alluring fashion, and a slender, doe-like carriage...
Someday, Graham promised himself, I will have a woman who looks just like her waiting in my bed.
"You are Alexander
Graham?" the woman said, speaking in an accent that clearly identified her as a
resident of South Africa. Graham nodded.
"Sit here," she said, pulling a chair away from the conference table. "Do we have proof of pedigree?" she asked, turning to face his father.
Benjamin Graham pulled out a passbook about as twice as long as a passport. The document folded out and the woman read slowly before nodding, and handing the document back.
"We are convinced," the woman said, turning to Graham. "Today, we are about to welcome you into the family. Our family. The greater family of the world, the family of the true human beings. Are you ready to join the family?"
There was something beyond the words that caused Graham to suddenly swell with pride. "Yes."
The woman smiled. "Excellent."
The woman began to speak again – but this time, her words came not from her lips, but seemed to enter his mind with the gentle, surprising caress of a butterfly touching down upon the palm of his hand, strange but not frightening, an almost imperceptible touching inside his mind, or the way Cassidy's hand felt that day when she came to his room and cried on his shoulder because some guy had broken up with her... soft and strange - pleasant, and yet you dreaded it, because you knew it would go away all too soon...
We, or those like us, met you when you were but an infant. We have been watching you and we know you intimately. There were four of us then, as well. There is a part of the mind that controls the gifts, but in your infancy, four of us together bound that part of the mind. You have not missed that part of the mind, as you did not even know that it existed.
Today, Alexander Milhous Graham, you will come into your full inheritance. But your inheritance is not powers of mind and body, powers outside the realm of the fantastic, which we have moved beyond. Rather, it comes in the love and protection of those who are like you. It is in the joining of this community, sharing its loves, its fears, its desires and making those loves, fears, and desires your own. As you have shared with us – shared your thoughts... we now reciprocate and give back a measure of what we kept from you so many, many years. Your father has provided you with wealth, with love, and with prosperity, but that is only a small part of what you are offered.
And, if you have lived the kind of life that is exemplary, then that part of your mind shall be unbound and your body shall be given leave to do full work among us. But it is a special work that not everyone can do. Many are of the blood, but few are pristine.
Do you fear where we are about to go, Alexander Graham? Do you fear the four of us treading the corners of your soul?
Graham was confident, sure of himself as he had never been before. "Never."
Very good, the woman's voice sounded inside him, and Graham opened himself up as he had never done so before in his life, welcoming the new minds inside himself as they brought themselves upon him like warm rain.
For the first time in his life, Graham felt as if he had come home... and was in the presence of family. He felt the barriers slide aside, and as they did, his mind unlocked itself and roared, a savage beast unbound now sensing freedom, and a vast expanse to roam upon... pure intelligence, set free.
Every random idea he had ever jotted down, the assignments he had for school, the Russian translation he was doing for the Languages Club... the answers were all there, in front to him. All the answers, all at once, and all of them – so incredibly simple... How could I not have understood all of this before? It's so simple; walking across a room would require more thought than working out the answers to any of this...
He sat down, and the four psionics moved about him. You are one of us, and we must now tell you – were things as they were even weeks ago, you would have been denied this responsibility – the responsibility of power, the Korean man's voice sounded within him. Now, there has been a change... and because of who you are... you are in a position to aid your family – the true family of humans. Will you accept this duty?
What do you want me to do?
Nothing – for now, the smaller woman spoke. As far as the world will know, you are as you always were... but the time will come when you will be able to serve us well...
I don't understand...
We who are The Elite have existed since the days before civilization. We directed the construction of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World; we were there to witness the first Olympiad. We listened as Jesus Christ delivered the Sermon on the Mount, and watched as nuclear fire scorched Japanese soil on a Monday morning in 1945.
We of The Elite are all equals... but some must be more equal than others. It is the way of things. By right of birth, Homo Superior is superior to the grubworms that walk this world with us... but those of us, with powers of the mind... we are superior to even our brothers and sisters of The Elite. The grubworms rely on strength and speed to survive and flourish; those who consider us their equals are nothing more than trained apes, using tricks of the body to rise above the grubworms, while a true human needs only the power of his or her mind. Our bodies sustain us, allow us to procreate, and bring us pleasures only afforded to flesh... but they are our animal selves. They are what we have begun to rise beyond. Animal flesh will never be equal to the mind of a human... do you understand this?
A moment's pause elapsed before Graham replied. Yes... yes. I do.
You are more than a member of the Elite, Alexander Graham. You are Homo Sapiens Intellegere... you are a True Human.
Do you know of The Legion?
Graham nodded; he remembered Daria Morgendorffer from her trip to Grove Hills almost two years ago – and the snobbish attitude she had about not wanting to enroll there. When he heard about her outrageous luck in running into Russell Stark, all of that money, and becoming a member of what lots of people saw as a eccentric old man's counter to the Boy and Girl Scouts, he read up on everything he could find...
The day will come, Alexander, when we will contact you concerning them. Until then, you may return to your life with our blessings. Enjoy the benefits of knowing your lineage, and allow your parents to rejoice in the knowledge that you have been allowed to use your gift. However – do not speak with your mother on who you truly are. Your father will understand – he will know, as soon as you tell him of your ability – but she is never to know. If you were to speak of this with her...
The threat hung in the air, like a dark cloud suddenly appearing to hide the sun of a beautiful spring day.
Then go - with our blessings.
The psionics left his mind, and Graham looked up to his parents, smiling as they went to him. "They said 'yes," he spoke, and light shone from their faces as he rose to embrace them.
He looked over at the South African psionic, and a random thought slipped from his mind; to his great surprise, she responded with a gentle smile as the words Of course. I would be honored to be your first. This afternoon, after we send your parents on a shopping trip slipped into his mind.
Graham's smile grew wider as he allowed his parents to lead him out of the office, the Slavic man directing them.
This is going to be so good...
"Miss Lane! A moment of your time, before you perform genocide upon someone?"
Jane pulled up short as she turned to see the Colonel step from his office, followed by a man wearing the uniform of a Coast Guard flag officer and two kids about her age – a tall Latino who as so handsome that (especially wearing that uniform) he momentarily made her forget that Tom Sloane existed, and a young woman with short, wheat colored hair and a figure that made Jane think that she'd probably be more at home wearing a cheerleader's outfit.
"You look like you're about to go and stomp on someone. Not while we have guests – and by the way, welcome back. I trust everything went well up north?"
"It went okay," she told him. "Sir, I want to say something about Mack-"
"Bring him upstairs," Armalin told her, handing her a device that looked a lot like the Mark 20 that Daria wore. "This is a Mark 40 compliance band. Have him put this on – it'll dampen out his powers, so he'll be safe to move around."
"But he's in that big chamber –how do I-"
"I recommend going to the door, pushing the large green button that says 'Open', and moving away from the very large, heavy door as it opens. After you do that, have everyone meet me in the front of the tower – and put your jackets or uniforms on before you come out. On your way, Miss Lane."
"Still as charming as ever," Rear Admiral Martin Harrison observed, noticing the mean look Jane shot in the Colonel's direction, then motioning for his cadets to walk away. "So... this is the Daisy Hill Puppy Farm, East Coast. Think that your pack of pampered pups can keep up with mine?"
"I think you'd get a surprise or two," Armalin replied, offering him a stick of gum and smiling as he thought of the way Sandi had already qualified with the PFT. "I appreciate this, Marty. This Mackenzie kid's easily a Class Five –and I'd like him tested at 'The Axe', since you have all of that special, government funded equipment-"
"Including that test chamber made out of twenty-five feet-thick walls of True Adamantium, which we tested by popping a tactical nuke inside to see if it would breach," Harrison shot back, noticing the way his cadets looked about the area with wide eyes, "not to mention that Starsmore kid coming in last month. The Professor asked about you, and why you haven't called or dropped in at the School in a while..."
Kyle's face went impassive. "I've been busy."
"He doesn't think less of you because you went into the military, Kyle. He'd like to see you-"
"I don't want to have to explain my choice."
Harrison shook his head. "Nobody asked you to, and I didn't have to explain mine, did I? He misses you. You haven't visited in several years."
"I've been busy."
Harrison swallowed his gum. "Look – Scott's always been a hard-case when it comes to the teams, and he-"
"-Thinks I somehow betrayed everyone and sold out because I didn't stay there and fight alongside everyone else." The Colonel shook his head. "Summers forgot that it's possible to have a life outside the School once you get your gifts under control – that's the reason the Professor built the School in the first place. Jackass couldn't even walk away long enough to stay married."
"I think Scott's pissed off at you because you were able to go off on your own – and now, you're following in the Professor's footsteps in a way he never could. He never could cut the apron strings and be anything more than a student – he can't even call the professor by his first name."
"Oh, I can address him as 'Charles'. I just feel it's disrespectful to do so."
"Yeah – once you found military life, you always were a fun date. Speaking of that – met anyone interesting lately?" Martin laughed at the look on the Colonel's face. "Yeah, with a look like that, it's probably been too long. There are decent women everywhere you go, if you actually try to meet some."
"So what is it now – third marriage?" Armalin gave his friend a look and a pleasant laugh. "Twenty-one, and a gymnast? What cradle did you rob her from?"
"Tammy spent a year strapped to a morpher out in California fighting aquatics, and after that, went to Florida to get back into form for a try at the World Games. Met her because I'm a former champ myself, remember?"
"How could I forget – flipping all over the place while you were firing those cryo-blasts out of your eyes," he responded. "See you guys in a couple?"
Harrison nodded. "I'll set it up."
"Right – and have decent food. My kids are used to eating well."
The admiral laughed. "I can tell by the smells from the cafeteria – you'll have to invite me to in to grab a tray of billionaire's chow soon. Vargas, Lyter – let's go."
The elevator doors opened at just that moment, and Tom, Quinn and Sandi stepped out as Harrison and his cadets moved in that direction. "He's cute," the girl said, whispering to her fellow cadet as she openly eyed Tom. "He's the one just like me, right?"
"Their home court – leave them alone," the Latino cadet replied; the female cadet smiled a catlike smile at the three Legionnaires.
"Hey – rich boy," she called out to Tom. "See you soon."
Admiral Harrison gave Cadet Lyter – the female cadet – a disapproving glance, and the Legionnaires turned as one from the closing doors on the elevator to Armalin. "What's that all about?" Quinn asked, her eyes questioning. "Nothing - just touching up on a quick field trip for all of you. Since you're all in your uniforms, head out front and tell everyone you see on the way to slip on their uniforms or toss their Legion jackets on – and if anyone takes over an hour to get dressed, I will not be amused."
"Great," Quinn said, walking away. "You try to look nice for one major disaster, and they never let you forget it."
Armalin watched the trio of teenagers head off, and he shook his head as he walked back into his office. "I only wish that I could say that I didn't annoy the Professor that much when I was that age..."
"I can't believe that you actually listen to Lawn-Raping Raptors," Trent said, watching as Mack snapped the Mark 40 onto his wrist moments after stepping through the lengthy walkway that led to the observation chamber. "Pretty cool stuff for somebody into the high school thing – captain of the team, you know."
"They're some pretty sick white boys from down South – and if their stuff's so off the chain that they got banned from playing in their hometown, they were worth checking out," Mack told him. "When they sealed off the top of that building after the City Council meeting and played a free concert the night, and the cable news people carried it live because of the police trying to get them down and the crowds blocking them, I had to buy their CD."
Trent remembered how the band went double platinum three weeks later. "Yeah. Monique was talking about them."
"So, how does it feel to be out of quarantine and allowed to play with the rest of the group?" Jane asked, and Mack turned to her. "Not bad," he said, and looked down at the indicator face on the Mark 40. "I guess it works – I can't even make a tiny flame on my fingertip, or flash any light."
"Thought about what I asked you a few minutes ago?"
"Yeah – is that why that Marine colonel Armbruster let me out?"
"Armalin – and he was having a meeting with some Navy guy and two kids about our age in uniforms. I think the Navy guy gave him that," Jane said, motioning towards Mack's wrist, "because he gave Daria one just like it."
"Okay – Daria can read minds?" Mack shook his head, still stunned by that revelation. "Now, she's only been able to do that since you, her and Quinn started the Legion, right?"
"Yeah – how come?"
"Just wondering why she didn't kill off most of the guys at Lawndale High – and probably a few of the girls, too," he said, remembering some of the comments made about the older Morgendorffer sister ever since she'd arrived at Lawndale High as a sophomore – none even remotely about her attitude, and nearly all about her figure and what she'd probably be like alone with a very lucky person. "Some of the things people would say were...inappropriate."
"You didn't say anything like that, did you, Mack?"
"Hell no! I want to live!"
Jane smirked, and Mack pushed to the far reaches of his brain a dream he'd once had after watching the Wormhole X-Treme! spin-off Wormhole Lemuria– where he was an alien warrior-prince (on the show, the people of that race all dressed up like they were WWII-style Japanese warriors, complete with period swords), with Daria and Jane both as members of the Earth team, now his captives, and dressed up as his Asian concubines... that was a really good dream...
Mack also remembered that the main female lead on the show was 'Stacy Monroe'... and more than a few thoughts ran to the Fashion Club member with a very similar name and look... and legs...
"Ah... anyway – so how do I join up?"
"Well, if you want in, we'll just have a vote," she told him. "Anyway, come on. The Colonel wants you upstairs – hey, loverboy! What's up?"
She slid over to Tom and the young man came through the door. "Mack, this is my personal foot-massage specialist and all-around squeeze toy, Tom Sloane. Tom, this is-"
"I know – Dad's a big fan – and he freaked out over what happened at the lab," Tom said, shaking Mack's hand. "You're okay, right?"
"Yeah, I'm fine," he said, looking Tom over. "You've got powers, too? What can you do?"
"Oh, not much – just lift the state of Nebraska up off the ground, fly around the world in about a minute, sit on a nuclear bomb as it goes off and only have to brush my hair afterwards..."
"In other words, you're whipped," Mack said, thinking about how he'd told Jodie everything, despite what Armalin had said. The effect a girl can have on you...
"Hey, what's that mark going around your neck? You look like you've been wearing a leash and collar for a while, too!"
"Great – the boy puppies are bonding," Jane grunted, pulling Tom through the door behind her. "Come on, Mackenzie."
The room was sudden empty and quiet, save for Trent; his breathing was the only sound in the room as he sat down, and just stared at the wall for a long time.
"Let's make this quick. All those in favor of making Michael Jordan Mackenzie a member of the Lawndale chapter of the Legion, raise your hands!"
Quinn looked around at the Legionnaires with hands raised in the air, and nodded. "All opposed, raise your hands." She looked about, and then turned to Stacy, the chapter secretary. "Stacy, make a note in the minutes that on this date, with a show of hands and in a unanimous decision, Mack Mackenzie was voted in as a Legionnaire."
Mack smiled as the other legionnaires gathered around him; even Daria, who scared Mack as she stepped forward with a smile on her face, shook his hand. "Welcome into the zoo."
"Thanks," he replied. "You can really read minds?"
"Eh," she responded. "With most people, it's like looking at a Post-it on the door of the fridge. I don't do it all of the time, or on purpose. You don't have to worry."
As Daria turned away, it was as if he heard Daria's voice as clear as day – >>But if I didn't consider Jodie a friend, the only thing you'd have to worry about is how you'd have the energy to get out of my room-<<
Mack's eyes went wide, and he spun away from Tiffany to lock onto Daria. WHAT?
Daria spun around at the sound of Mack's voice. >>What? Did you just hear me? What did I just say – I didn't say anything – but I just, oh, God, I can't believe that I thought that – how the hell did you hear me – did I just send that – how did you pick that up - oh, God, look at the size of your hands –<<
Jane touched Daria on the shoulder, and Daria jumped, then spun around and immediately shrank at the way Jane's eyebrow was raised. "You're being a bad girl again, eh, Morgendorffer?" Jane cackled, enjoying the blush on her friend's face. "Maybe you should get them to set your arm jewelry like his, so that it shuts down your powers-"
Stacy shrieked, and only her spectacular agility saved her as she leaped away from where Daria's left hand was pointing – and a truly impressive stream of white-hot flame exploded from her hand to turn the spot Stacy had been standing into a jagged plane of blackened glass!
"WHOA!" Jane cried out, as Quinn and Tom knelt down to look closely at the mass of melted earth where sand and earth had been earlier. "Is that what your power's like, Mack?"
"Yes... but how is it that you've got my power, too, Daria? I thought you could read minds, not shoot flames or anything..."
"That's an interesting take on your abilities, Morgendorffer," the Colonel observed, stepping through the entrance doors to Legion Tower. "I've heard of a couple of psionics with similar abilities, including one of those you'll be meeting. Come on, line up and let's go..."
"Go?" Jane asked, walking up to
the Colonel. "We're going somewhere?"
Holding up a finger for silence as his cell phone rang and he answered it, the Colonel spoke quickly and hung up before he turned to the assembled group. "Okay, file back on through the door..."
"Well, whatever," Quinn mumbled, obviously downcast; she'd obviously done a quick touch up on her make up and had gotten into one of her perfectly-tailored and cleaned uniforms (as had the other members of the Fashion Club) because she thought that she'd be going to meet People and wanted to look her best. "I thought that we were going somewhere-"
Her voice cut off in sudden shock as she stepped through the entrance – and immediately found herself on a spectacular green area bordered on three sides by tall, stately buildings that gave the area the look of a college campus... as did the large number of young people walking around in uniforms and athletic apparel.
"-To meet someone..." Quinn found her voice after a moment, in which the rest of the Legionnaires appeared behind her, each as wide-eyed as she was.
"The Admiral sent me to bring you to his office," a voice from behind spoke, and the group turned to see a young man in a cadet uniform, not much older than them, walking towards them. "If you'll all follow me."
"Who are you?" Daria asked, in a tone that the other Legionnaires thought was surprisingly cordial – for her.
"Oh, I'm sorry – I should have introduced myself," the young man said, his voice holding a West Virginian accent. "I'm Cadet First Class Martin Peters - Cadet Commander of Corps of the 'Elite Academy'. Welcome to 'The Axe."