A team of teenage superheroes must save Atlanta from destruction.
This story was originally a submission for Atlanta Outworlders in Print a magazine published for Dragoncon. I still own the rights to it and so I'm publishing it here for your perusal.
The Stryker/Norris Academy for Advanced Academic Studies, Stone Mountain, Georgia- just outside the Atlanta 285 Perimeter is one of only three academies like it in the world, academies that cater to the needs of normal students as well as those with special powers, known as parahumans. It is this Academy that is the oldest, whose origins go all the way back to World War II and the ill-fated Homeguard Team based out of Washington, DC.
In a very special gym of the academy, a very special instructor was taking his frustrations out on some very special equipment.
"Want to talk about it, Sloan?" Amanda Nelson asked her ex-husband.
"What good would it do?" he told her as he lay back on the special reinforced bench. To the casual observer, the workout equipment would appear as being somewhat hi-tech but really nothing out of the ordinary. However, appearances can be deceiving for this equipment was the oroduct of Terran applications of alien technology. It and other pieces like it that were scattered around the gym allowed parahumans like Sloan Carter, history teacher and Dean of Men at the Academy to get a full workout without having several tons of plates sitting around.
Adjusting the controls, he began to lift the bar in steady succession, each time breathing out as he lifted and in as he recovered slowly. Before long a fine sheen of sweat covered his body, as Amanda awaited the inevitable continuation. She knew this man perhaps better than he knew himself. She loved him as a friend and like a brother, even if she no longer loved him as a husband. Finally, after the tenth rep, he reset the bar and sat up again stretching. Grabbing a towel from beside the bench he wiped the sweat from his face.
"There's nothing to do about it but expel him for no justifiable reason," he gave her a wry smile, "and you know I wouldn't expel him even for a justifiable one; or send him to either the Eaton or San Medilla campus-- again, something I wouldn't do. San Medilla's team is already set, and we know how the normals at Eaton would eat him alive. Hell, our two Americans already on that team have enough trouble with the snooty blue-blooded British as it is."
Amanda smiled and leaned against the machine, "YOU could take a sabbatical..." She knew it was a futile suggestion, but she had to make it. This situation was eating Sloan alive. It wasn't easy on her either. The boy brought back too many old memories-- memories of pain, of loss, and abandonment. But for Sloan they were worse. They tore at his very being as a leader, as a friend, and as something that should have been but never was.
He shook his head, "No way. I don't run from something just because it makes me nervous, Mandy. You know me better than that." He leaned back and readjusted the weights again. Putting his hands back on the bar, he rested for a second before continuing. "Besides, Tanya needs me. She is just now coming into her own as a tank and as a leader. She needs some guidance though, and I'm not about to dump her on Pacifica or Eaton either. She and Challenger would be butting heads from the get go, and she would have the same problems at Eaton as Dannon would."
"So what are you going to do?" Amanda asked. "Just tough it out, like you always do?"
Sloan pumped out ten more reps, this time with more difficulty. Amanda could see the muscles in his chest tighten and strain as he fought against the gravity well created by the machines. Finally, he finished, sat up and repeated the ritual with the towel. "I'm going to do my job, Mandy-- my feelings be damned."
She smiled at him. "I thought so." She leaned in so they were face to face. "Just answer me one question."
"If I can." He met her eyes.
"You love him, don't you?"
He looked away, "Mandy, don't..."
"I'm not accusing you of anything, Sloan. You're too good a man for that. I just want you to be honest."
He stood and faced the wall, his back to her. "What if do? What if I never stopped loving him, even though I never realized I did until he was dead?" She walked over and put a hand on his shoulder. She felt him tense under it. "But whatever I felt sixty years ago, is of no importance. He's my student now. He may be almost as old as I am, but he was returned to us with no memory of who or what he was. He's still the same fifteen-year-old that gave his life saving DC. What I feel stays under wraps."
She nodded. He was right of course. Dannon had been turned over the school primarily as a charity case-- a kid picked up on the streets for petty crimes--okay they weren't that petty, but it was a least a victimless crime- who claimed to have no memory of his past beyond his name: Dannon Griffin.
When Amanda had first seen him, she almost fainted. He was the same boy she'd served with sixty years ago. Whereas she'd aged-- albeit somewhat slowly, appearing to be no more than thirty-five or so instead of her true seventy-seven; and Sloan appeared to be no more than to be in his late twenties-- Dannon had not aged a day. He still looked like the blue-eyed kid who'd fought along side them as members of the first Homeguard- he was Sky Dancer.
Amanda had immediately called in Beth and they'd compared notes. Without a word to either Sloan or their other partners, they brought the full resources of Academy Foundation to bear on finding out if it really was the missing teen whose death had brought about the end of the first Homeguard. They had not let on to the boy that they suspected who he really was.
As test after test came back positive they kept their silence. They'd even gone outside the Foundation and brought in an independent mage-- Caster of The Warders-- who had confirmed their own hypothesis. This child was the same as the one who had disappeared sixty years ago and was presumed dead. He had been somewhere-- somewhere dark and so frightening that it had burned out the very memory of who he really was.
On the advice of Caster and their own mage, Power Stone, they'd decided to keep things to themselves. If he regained his memories, then that would be something they could help him with. If not, he of all people deserved a new shot at life, and they were determined that he'd get it. So, they'd enrolled him. He was a psi after all, and the Atlanta facility was best suited for dealing with psis and mages. It was the way the foundation dealt with these students. Atlanta got psis and mages, Pacifica got the ferals, and Eaton got the "politically sensitive" students. Oddly enough he chose the code name, Dancer a name close to his old one. Of course since he was also only one of two people who'd ever been exposed to the Atlantean Gifted Gene Virus in massive doses and at close range meant that this facility was the best suited for him. Its medical facilities were far more advanced than either Eaton or Pacifica.
Finally, Sloan turned to face her and she said, "I agree. He deserves a chance at happiness. If he remembers who he is, then we'll deal with those memories. Until then, he's just another student, Dr. Carter." She winked at him, "Do I make myself clear?"
"As ice, Dr. Nelson," she told him.
"Isn't that supposed to be my realm of control?" Beth Nichols asked as she entered the gym, her long white-blonde hair pulled back in a bun. Beth too had served with Mandy and Sloan as a member of the original Homeguard Team of World War II, and like them, had mourned the loss of their friend Dannon. Then she was a vibrant young woman from the upper classes of New England, now her years weighed heavily on her soul if not her face. "After all, ice is what I do best." She grinned, "or at least did best." The all laughed.
She sighed and told them. "Director Kirk wants to see us in DC in four hours. We've got a serious incident building and it sounds like something we might need to stay ready in the background if the kids can't handle it."
Dannon walked at a leisurely pace toward the central hall of the Academy, adjusting his uniform as he went. He smiled looking down at the khaki duty uniform and for some reason felt like it was right. It was comfortable like something he'd worn before, even though this particular set was brand new.
As he reached the top of the stairs he looked below, where small groups of other students were gathering, waiting for the galley to open. Gathered in one corner were the rest of his new friends: Tanya, Lee, and Ethan. As he descended the stairs, his mind focused on the cool news he had for Tanya, his control of his powers slipped. It might have been his concentration on the tall statuesque chocolate skinned girl, or it may have just been random chance, but the first thing he picked up was about his team leader.
As he started down the stairs, a short girl jostled him; Kineshia, he remembered was her name. He suddenly felt the girl aim a mental snarl at his friend, Tanya. Her mental musings hit him like a sledgehammer. Just look at her; always acting white. All she is is an uppity northern nigger-- too good to hang around with other black folks, she's always hanging with that faggot white guy Lee, and that weird guy Ethan.
The raw anger and hatred directed through that brief encounter with the girl's mind sent him reeling. Twisting to get away from the physical contact, he over-balanced himself and tumbled down the rest of the stairs, his books flying.
By the time he recovered himself to try and get up, Tanya was standing over him with a smile. Of all his new teammates, he liked Tanya the best, was closest to her. There was something both strong and serene about her. She had a commanding presence that made it clear she would brook no argument once a decision was made for the team. Best of all she shared with him a passion for a particular type of fan fiction, and the two spent a great deal of their sparse leisure time reading and discussing it. Reaching out to help him up, all he felt from her was a genuine concern for his well-being and a sense of amusement toward something else.
Turning his head back to the stairs he saw a small pile of other students who'd been knocked down when he'd tripped. At the bottom of the pile was Kineshia, looking rather disheveled. Dannon shuddered at the memory of the girl's mind. As Tanya pulled him to his feet, she dusted him off and asked, "Lose your balance?"
Looking around to make sure nobody else could hear, he replied, "In more ways than one." He tapped the side of his head meaningful. "My shields dropped," he looked down at his now scuffed shoes knowing that the Deck Officer wouldn't let him in the galley looking like that.
"Must have been some tryst you picked up there to make you lose your balance," she teased him. She was always teasing him about getting into other people's heads and finding out about their secret sexual fantasies. Like most teenagers their age, she spent a great deal of energy thinking about sex. He wasn't about to tell her he knew more about that aspect of life than he ever really wanted to know, or exactly what he'd done to survive on the streets the past couple of years.
He shook his head and looked back at the girl trying to extricate herself from the pile of bodies and briefly considered a light TK slap to her for thinking those kinds of things about his friend. However, he realized that would only get him in trouble with Dr. Carter, and he definitely didn't want to disappointed /him/. At the thought of the tall blond, he felt a blush rise in his cheeks. "No, not really."
All Tanya did was raise an eyebrow as she spotted his shoes. Reaching into her bag she pulled out one of those re-sealable sandwich bags with a cloth and polish in it. It was a running joke that she carried a complete first aid kit, a microcomputer, a bazooka, and a '57 Chevy in the tiny purse that was standard issue for all female students. She always seemed to have what was needed at the time. Handing him the bag, she told him. "You'd better take care of those shoes before breakfast."
He smiled and bent to the task and said, "Thanks." Without looking up he told her his good news. "Guess what I just downloaded off fanfiction.net?"
"Mele's finally put out the next chapter of /White Knight in Shining Armor/?"
He chuckled as he spit on the toe of his shoe and applied the rag to the wax. "No, but almost as good."
"What then?" she asked as Ethan and Lee rolled their eyes behind her.
"Here they go with the Power Ranger fan fiction again," Ethan said. "C'mon guys, we've got the real world to live in. We don't have to worry about who is torturing the Blue Ranger this week."
Tanya just shook here head and told him, "Don't mind them. They don't know good literature when they read it."
He smiled up at her; "Bleu-woulfe just posted a new chapter of /BleuSoliloqui/, and guess who did a guest scene for it?"
"Huh?" she asked. "You mean who was in it?"
He shook his head. "No, who wrote a scene- a love scene for it." He smiled, of course you have to be 18 to request it from /him/."
"Now I'm confused. I thought Bleu-woulfe was a girl."
He nodded, "She is. But she got Cobalt-Blue to write a love scene for her." He grinned and told her, "Hot naked ranger-boy sex!"
"Ughh!" Ethan protested, "That's T.M.I., Dannon. T.M.I."
Lee just shrugged, "I don't know, I kinda' like the idea."
"You just want Rocky all to yourself," Tanya teased him. Turning back to Dannon she asked, "If it's by request only, and then only if your 18 or older, how'd you get it?"
Dannon just smiled, "I'm not telling."
"Wait a minute?" Ethan said. "Are you saying that the Cobalt Blue. The hero that works out of London and DC, is writing juvenile fan fiction?"
"No silly!" they both said in unison.
"Cobalt-Blue is a writer of Ranger fan fiction," Tanya explained. "I'm not sure, but I think he was using the name before the hero showed up. He's not as good as Mele, or Dags, or Karen Davis, but he does some interesting pairings and /knows /how to write a fight scene or," she grinned wickedy, "a love scene."
"Okay, just as long as there are only two people in this line of work who are Power Rangers fanatics, that's okay," Ethan told her. Both Tanya and Dannon shook their heads and smiled. Ethan never would understand their obsession. He had his own priorities. He was growing up in the shadow of hero parents. When your dad is the first hero of the modern age, and your mom is a vampire hunter, it's kind of hard not to feel pressured to excel.
Just as Dannon finished with his shoes and had straightened his uniform, the doors to the galley opened. Before they could go in, however, Cadet Lieutenant Richardson, the Deck Officer, stopped them. "Not you four cadets. Headmistress Nichols wants to see you in her office ASAP."
Dannon turned to look at his new teammates and they all nodded and as one headed toward the schools' north tower. "Wonder what the ice queen wants to see us for?" Lee asked.
"I wouldn't let her hear you call her that," Ethan said.
Lee just shrugged. "I mean it affectionately," he protested.
"It's not me you have to convince," Ethan told him.
"Nobody understands me," the young witch retorted.
"Oh, I think we understand you quite well," Dannon interjected. "It's all about you. Anything not about you has to be hunted down and shot immediately." He grinned at his friend, reveling in the idea of having friends to tease.
"You got it kid," Lee grinned back.
Five minutes later found the four of them sitting quietly in the main briefing area beneath the school proper. This was where the school's parahuman team trained and worked toward mastery of the gene that set them apart from the rest of humanity. This was where they ceased to be Tanya Washington, Ethan Pruitt, Lee Bell, and Dannon Griffin. Here, they were instead, Liber-T, Shadow Shroud, Angelsboi, and Dancer.
A large table dominated the room and all the instructors responsible for the training of the team were there. Professor Hawkes, Lee's instructor in the mystical arts, was leaning back in his chair studying a file carefully. Dr. Carter was speaking quietly to someone on the phone, while the Dr. Nelson was talking in hushed voices with Headmistress Nichols. As the four took their seats, Dr. Carter hung up the phone and sat down at his place. Everyone came to attention immediately.
"We have a situation," Lee had never seen any of their instructors looking this serious or upset.
"What kind of sich, Doc?" Tanya asked from Lee's side.
"This information is not to leave this room," Dr. Carter said. "Understand?" Everyone nodded seriously. "We have it on good authority that an Islamic terrorist group has been able to obtain two old style Russian suitcase nukes. Our contacts in Washington believe that they've managed to smuggle them into the country- one into Atlanta specifically."
"Why Atlanta?" Lee asked. "It's not like this city is considered a major symbol of the US."
"We're not sure," Dr. Nelson said. "However, we do think the bomb is here, and we have to stop it."
"Any leads?" Tanya asked.
Professor Hawkes leaned forward and said in his deep Texan drawl, "Just that we know they've hired four assassins to act as security for their operative."
"Who?" Tanya asked.
Dr. Nelson touched the edge of her control panel for the table. A soft glow emanated from the center of the workspace of the table, and then two three-d images flickered into existence above it. A man wearing dark red armor with an articulated tail and a nasty looking stinger at the end floated next to a flaming humanoid form- the Pacifica Academy's greatest failures. "I'm sure you'll all recognize Red Scorpion and Hellfire from the Pacifica Academy."
"Yeah, I bet Challenger would give his right nut to be going after Sanchez here," Ethan said.
"Watch your language, Ethan," Dr. Carter said.
"Yes, sir," Ethan replied somewhat cowed.
The images flickered again and another form took shape. A tall man dressed in a solid non-reflective black body suit, save what appeared as a single cut on his right arm that bled down into a blood-red glove appeared and rotated in place. Lee could hear the hatred in Ethan's voice, "Twilight."
"This is not a personal vendetta, Mr. Pruitt," Professor Hawkes warned. "If you can bring him in, then so be it, but we all know not even Night Angel has been able to do that." Lee wondered if that was a jab at Ethan's parent or a reminder to not to take on what even his father couldn't handle.
"Yes sir," Ethan replied, but this time seemed less cowed than before.
Finally, a woman in a gray and purple body suit with golden bracers took form alongside the other three. "This is Scalpel," Headmistress Nichols said. "Between her and Twilight, they represent two thirds of the Richelieu Factor's top operatives." Lee had heard of the super secret assassin-for-hire organization from Ethan's stories about his dad. Headmistress Nichols continued her lecture, "Add in the raw power of Red Scorpion and Hellfire and you've got the potential for a great deal of damage."
"And that's not counting the nuke," Dannon said from the other side of Tanya. He leaned forward, "What can you tell us about it?"
Headmistress shook her head, and sighed. "Not a lot. The Russians still refuse to admit that they even exist. We know they have a yield of around one kiloton; more than enough to kill hundreds of thousands of Atlantans if not a couple of million."
"Any idea how big they are physically?" Lee asked wondering if it was something he could use a couple of his contingency spells to get rid of.
"About the size of a back pack," Professor Hawkes replied.
"How can we trace them?"
Lee noticed Dr. Carter sigh slightly as he looked closely at the new guy, Dannon. "This is where you come in Sk... Danc... Dannon." Lee had never seen the man this nervous before. He was usually calm and collected, a regular man of ice under pressure. "Headmistress Nichols will show you the energy signature of the plutonium core used in the device. It'll be up to you to find where ever they are in the city."
Lee watched as Dannon swallowed at the enormity of his assignment, and nodded with a low, "Yes, sir." It was a lot of pressure to put on an untested new guy, and he knew how intimidating Headmistress Nichols could be. He just prayed that whatever gods watched over young warriors would guide his new friend. Lee was just glad that it was Tanya who was in charge and not him. He knew he didn't want the enormous responsibility of leadership. He had enough to worry about with his spells, and learning to use them offensively. He knew he wasn't ready to try and be responsible for everyone else.
Dr. Carter stood and said, "That's it children. This one is important. You fail and millions of people could die. Suit up, find those operatives, and stop them from detonating that bomb." She turned to Dannon, "Dancer, you come with me. You can suit up later."
Lee watched as the smaller boy simply nodded, his blue eyes grave, "Yes ma'am." The two left without another word. Lee noticed the pained look in Dr. Carter's eyes following them leaving.
Suddenly the air around the school shrieked with warning klaxons. Tanya knew that students would be headed toward the safety zones supplied by the school in case of this kind of thing. Tanya pulled on her gloves and sighed, realizing that Twilight and crew had found Homeguard before Homeguard could find them. This was a big one. This was the test. They had to get it right. Too many lives depended on her. If not them, then there was nobody else to stop the terrorist, and millions would die. Taking a deep breath, she said quietly to herself, "So be it. Into the crucible."
Pulling her right hand up to her face, she hit the stud on the underside of the band of her visor where her transmitter was embedded, "Listen up Homeguard. Looks like we won't get to go find them, they came to us, so let's get out there and do it."
"Yes ma'am boss lady," Shadow Shroud's voice came over the intercom. She knew the boys were in the other locker room. Sometimes it sucked being the only girl on the team.
"And be careful out there," she told them. Don't get yourselves hurt." Then straightening up she called up her own command voice, and imagining a certain fictional character in her mind's eye she projected herself into it. "Homeguard, To Action!"
Seconds later, she was flying up the long cavern that gave them access to the air above the school. Launching herself out of the hidden cave in Stone Mountain she broke free to see the chaos below. Hellfire and Red Scorpion were blasting huge holes in the turf around the buildings of the school. Cars were burning and there was the sound of alarms echoing across the parking lot as the two tried in vain to penetrate the school's reinforced walls that had been locked down during this emergency.
Looking around, she saw Lee- no, Angelsboi- she had to remember to use only code names in the open- appear out of the tube behind her, his spirit wings bearing him up to hover beside her. Looking over at him she smiled when he asked, "Should we give them a chance to surrender, T?"
She shook her head, "No, we both know they won't, so why waste the effort." She smiled and added, "And Angelsboi, remember code names. It's Liber-T."
He smiled and nodded, "I'll try to remember." He pointed the shadows between two buildings where Shadow Shroud seemed to ooze into existence. "There's Shadow Shroud. Now all we need is the newbie."
"He'll be along," Liber-T told him. "Remember, the Headmistress wanted him to learn to recognize those energy signatures." Below, Shadow Shroud gave them the thumbs up signal. Be careful down there, Ethan. I know you want to take out your father's nemesis, but don't take any chances. She nodded to him in acknowledgement.
Tanya turned to Angelsboi, "He's in position. Let's do it."
"You're the boss," Angelsboi nodded as he folded the ectoplasmic wings against his body and dropped into a stoop. Tanya arched her body and dove right behind him.
"Ah, there's our little hero team, such as it is," Red Scorpion called as he saw them closing. "What's the matter? Can't find anyone else to follow a girl, Liber-T?"
She shook her head, and bowled into him, "Nah, Red Scorpion, these are just the guys that are good enough." As her shoulder connected with his armored mid-section she adjusted her flight to slam him into Twilight's back. With preternatural senses, the black-garbed villain managed to dodge out of the way, twisting in mid air to snatch away Red Scorpion and leaving her on a collision course with the very surprised form of Shadow Shroud.
"Watch out Liber-T!" Shadow Shroud screamed and twisted to avoid being hit as she pulled up and toward the sky again.
"My, my," Hellfire chuckled as he hovered over the battlefield, flames licking around him. "Looks like you guys aren't nearly as good as Challenger's team."
"I know you're not going to answer this, but I'm going to ask it any way," Angelsboi said from the sky near him, "Where is the bomb?"
"Wouldn't you like to know, Angelsboi," Hellfire chuckled from where he and Angelsboi had begun to circle each other. He shrugged, "At least you'll know when it happens."
"Quit playing around and clip his wings," Scalpel called from nearby. She extended the razor sharp blade from her bracers and closed with Shadow Shroud from behind. Smiling wickedly she thrust her razor sharp weapons at the back of the unsuspecting hero. With no warning that he knew she was there, Shroud suddenly bent forward, the blade passing harmless over him to screech along Red Scorpion's armor.
"You might be just as good as people say you are, Shroud," she told him with a begrudgingly admiring tone. "Why hang around with this bunch of losers?" Shroud simply remained silent as he kept jockeying his position to always keep her and Twilight in each other's way.
"Time to die, little witch," Hellfire told Angelsboi as they both lighted on the edge of the quad.
"Who writes your dialogue, Hellfire?" Angelsboi asked as his spirit wings wrapped around him and dissolved. "It sounds like something out of bad B movie."
Hellfire growled, planted himself solidly on the ground and fired a two handed jet of flames toward Angelsboi. Tanya noted that whatever shield spell Angelsboi was using went up without a single gesture. Lee either already had it in place, or he was really getting good with on-the-fly casting. The young witch's features took on that slightly superior smug that he used so effectively to throw his opponents off guard. "C'mon, Hellfire. You can have no style at all." With a flourish of his arms, he said very deliberately. "This is how it's done, with style."
Suddenly the spirit wings were back, their tips pointed directly at Hellfire. A halo of energy shot from their tips, but to everyone's surprise they arced past their supposed target to strike Twilight directly in the back-- to no effect. The man simply stopped in his fight with Shroud, turned to face his attacker and chuckled. "Something not there, witch?"
Tanya could see the look of disgust and surprise flash across Lee's face. As quick as the look was there, it was gone. He simply side-stepped another blast from Hellfire and looked over at Tanya and said, "He's dead."
"What?" Shroud asked.
"Twilight's not alive. There's no soul there, only a walking corpse," Angelsboi told them.
"Sort of makes your kind of life-affirming magic," Twilight emphasized the last three words with contempt, "useless, doesn't it, boy."
Angelsboi smiled and took to the air again, his spirit wings spreading wide as he hovered over the battlefield. "Maybe," he said with dark humor, "but it makes it easy to neutralize you on the battlefield."
Again his arms went up with a flourish. This time a ball of energy erupted from him to spread out all over the quad. Tanya heard him say under his breath, "I hope there aren't any Civil War soldiers buried under these buildings."
Suddenly Twilight rose to about ten feet into the air and just hung there kicking; a surprised look on his face. Angelsboi smiled and told him, "Why don't you just hang there for a while?" He lightly brushed away some invisible speck from the sleeve of his jacket. "And since you have no ranged powers, that pretty much eliminates you from the fight." He laughed that high almost feminine laugh of his and continued to taunt one of the most feared assassins in the world, "You're a corpse. That makes you vulnerable to necromancy. In game-speak, that means /No saving throw./"
Tanya chuckled, "Way to go Angelsboi! That's using your head."
The thin dark haired youth smiled, "Hey, I'm a thinker, not a fighter."
In horror, Tanya realized that Hellfire was lining up for a kill shot from behind Angelsboi. Before she could cry out a warning, a streak of blue broke out of nowhere to intercept the blast. Dannon's small form was engulfed in flames. "Then pay attention, Angelsboi. As cute as it is, I won't always be here to cover your butt for you," the young blond said as the flames were absorbed into his body.
"Cool, Dancer just pushed the odds into our favor," Shroud said as he kept looking back over his shoulder and smirking in the direction of Twilight. Ethan is really enjoying seeing Twilight neutralized. I'll have to tease him about it later.
"So, our intelligence was a little off," Scalpel said. "Not a problem, he's only one more and just a kid at that, there's no way you can stop us in time." She dodged out of the way of a vicious kick Shadow Shroud aimed at her head.
"I'll take care of him, Scalpel," Hellfire screamed.
Tanya floated above the battlefield, and watched as the flaming villain swooped toward Dancer. Below her, Red Scorpion was setting himself in preparation for another energy blast in her direction. She frowned and touched her shoulder where the last one had grazed her. She could take a lot of damage, but those blasts stung like the dickens. "Dancer, you take out Hellfire, and then find those bombs."
"Yes, ma'am!" The small blond boy yelled back and closed with his opponent.
Tanya dropped low onto the deck and flew toward Red Scorpion again. She'd watched him fight and was beginning to get his measure. He was favoring his left leg from their previous collision. She could see the imprints of her fingers in the armor on his thigh. Smiling she accelerated and when he dodged to the right, she adjusted her flight path so that they collided full-force. "Nice try, Scorpion. But you dishonored the Academies, and I take that personally.
She arced high into the air and accelerated upwards and toward the west side of the mountain. "Let's see how your new armor handles hitting a granite wall at a couple G acceleration." She let go of him and pulled up hard, arcing backwards as the armor-clad villain smashed into the vertical wall of rock.
Turning back to the fight, she saw Dancer holding the now limp form of Hellfire grinning at some dark humor. "Doesn't taste like Hellfire to me. Tastes like microwaves." He muttered lowly, "And I've tasted hellfire first hand, believe me; you're not it."
"Dancer!" Tanya yelled. "Find the bomb!"
He nodded to her, "I know where it is." He dropped the villain to the ground below him. "He couldn't stop thinking about it," he told her as he nodded toward the now fallen form of Hellfire. "These guys were a diversion to keep us busy while the real terrorists deployed the bomb downtown." He slowly started to rise higher into the air. Stopping for a second, he looked down to Shadow Shroud and Angelsboi before asking, "Can you two handle this?"
"Go!" Angelsboi shouted.
"Stop the bomb!" Shroud told him. "We've got the Lone Musketeer here."
Dancer nodded and headed west toward the city. Tanya accelerated to follow. "Wait up, Dancer. I'm coming with you."
"No time, boss lady. I got get to the Coke Building fast."
She nodded and poured on the speed to follow. She was not going to let him go into this kind of danger by himself. He was the newbie and might need back up. Pouring on her own speed, she fought to keep up with him. In only a handful of seconds, they'd managed to cover the distance between Stone Mountain and downtown, Tanya still fighting to catch up with the smaller boy.
She saw him duck into the Coca-Cola museum at Five Points, never touching the ground. Seconds later as she reached the plaza, out he came again carrying what looked liked a large backpack, and accelerated into the sky. Sixty seconds until it goes off, T. Get out of here! She heard his voice in her head.
Without thinking, she took off after him. There was no way she was going to let him try to take that thing by himself. She knew in her heart that he wouldn't fail, wouldn't let himself fail, if he thought he was protecting someone he cared about. Reaching deep down inside her she pushed herself to her limits. /No can do, Little Bro. Where you go, I go/, she mentally sent back to him.
Suddenly an explosion above her registered, but there was no flash of light, and then the turbulence around her smoothed out. Some small part of her mind realized that they'd just broken the sound barrier and were still accelerating. At this point she knew she couldn't pull out of her mission if she wanted. She was caught up in Dancer's backwash, and he wasn't stopping until they reached the upper atmosphere. Tanya! Don't do this. I don't know if I can absorb it, shield it or what. You might die, she heard in her mind.
Then you'll just have to make sure I don't, she mentally told him. It was starting to get difficult to breathe. Looking down, she realized that most of the Eastern Seaboard as well as the Gulf Coast were spread out below her. She'd never been this high in her life.
Hang on T. Ten seconds, he mentally told her. Nine. Eight. Seven/. Her heart began to race. /Six. Five. Four. She held her breath-- what breath she could get that is. /Three. Two. One/.
There was a brief flash of light, and a terrible pressure surrounded her but there was no force. Above her, Dancer glowed like a second sun in the sky as the air around her rocked. A wave of something arched from horizon to horizon, as Dancer flashed out and collapsed into her from above. They began to fall.
Tanya fought for control, but she'd been on too little oxygen for too long. Her vision swam before her eyes as dark spots danced around her head. Below her, Dancer was falling away. It took her a second to realize that he was unconscious.
Shaking her head to clear it, she accelerated downward. At least she could catch him at this speed, that is if she could stay conscious long enough, and if she didn't lose him before the ground rush took them both. She closed the distance, and noticed as the air got thicker she could breath again, as well as the feeling was coming back to her hands when her fist closed around Dancer's white booted foot.
Below them, the ground was coming up fast. Detail was coming back to the world, and she realized that they were no longer over Atlanta, but were somewhere farther East. Jet stream must have caught us. Instead of trying to fight the speed, she pulled Dancer's smaller form to her, and changed her course back to the west, toward home.
The Gs she was pulling were horrific, and her vision compressed itself to a small tunnel as the blood was forced from her brain. Finally, it was over, she'd managed to pull them out of the fall and they were flying along at a controllable speed. Dannon moaned in her arms, his brow creased under his visor. "It's going to be okay, Bro. You did it. You saved the city."
"What's wrong with them?" Ethan demanded of Professor Hawkes. When Tanya had returned with Dannon unconscious in her arms right after the flash of light in the sky, the two of them had been whisked off to the underground medical bay.
Professor Hawkes smiled and in his soft Texan drawl said, "Tanya's been exposed to a pretty heavy dose of radiation. Dr. Nelson is decontaminating her now."
"How long will that take?" Ethan asked.
" You won't be able to see her for about a day. She took a pretty heavy dose." As if seeing the worried look on their faces, he quickly added, "We don't think it hurt her, she's pretty tough, but we need to get the particles off her so she doesn't' contaminate any of the other students."
"And Dannon?" Lee asked from his side.
The Professor chuckled, "Best I can tell, the boy's drunk."
"Drunk?!" Lee demanded.
"Well, that's about what it compares to. He absorbed more in that blast than he was accustomed to." He shook his head, "He's running high as a kite in a hurricane right now." He sighed, "At least he's a giggling drunk, and not a mean one."
"Can we see him?" Ethan asked.
"In a bit," the older man told them. "First I need to talk to you Ethan."
"Why me?" Ethan asked.
The Professor smiled, reached out and tapped the small electronic psi-shield that was integrated into the clasps of his cloak. Ethan had to wear the thing around Dannon. One of the abilities he inherited to from his father was a physical reaction to mind touch powers. They gave him a splitting headache and a nosebleed. "Because of this," the older man told them. "There's some information that somebody on the team needs to know that Dannon doesn't. In case he should start to get some of his memories back, one of you should be prepared to deal with it. At this point, because of your psi-shield, you get elected."
Ethan just nodded and followed the older man back into one of the briefing rooms. Confused by what Professor Hawkes had said, he asked, "Why don't you want Dannon to know about his past?"
"Close the door," he told Ethan. Then sighing he leaned into the plush chair on the other side of the table. "Because of what we know happened to him."
"What happened to him?" Ethan asked. "I mean, as far as the team knows, he doesn't remember anything about his past."
He nodded, "That's true. But his past is a little older than he knows."
Ethan furrowed his brow, "You want to explain that?"
Again, he sighed, "When Dannon first showed up, three of the faculty at this school almost had a collective heart-attack."
"Dr. Carter, Dr. Nelson, and Headmistress Nichols," Ethan said. It was a statement of fact. He, Tanya, and Lee had all noticed that those three acted almost like a team themselves.
Professor Hawkes nodded, "You got it. Those three were part of the first Homeguard Team."
"The one from World War Two- the one that disbanded after Sky Danc...," It suddenly hit Ethan. It made sense, and it would explain the hurt look on Doc Carter's face half the time when Dannon was around. "Dannon is Sky Dancer, isn't he? He's the one who died in 1944."
Professor Hawkes nodded and said, "You are your father's son aren't you. You've got his quick mind." He spun the chair around, sat down, and fidgeted with a pocketknife he pulled from his vest. Ethan always did like Professor Hawkes; mainly because he was much more relaxed around the students than the other faculty. This nervousness didn't fit well with his normal easy going demeanor, and that drove home the seriousness of the situation. Too bad the only class he taught the non-mage students was math. "Yeah, he was Sky Dancer. He died, or at least disappeared in 1944 when some kind of training accident set off an earthquake in Washington, DC. From what I know, he literally held the tectonic plates under that portion of the East Coast together by telekinesis and sheer force of will. The strain drained him completely just before he disappeared into one of Gate's Hellgates. The team thought he was dead."
"Hellgates?" Ethan asked.
"Yeah, Hellgates is about the best word I can use to describe them. Gate could open up doors from one place to another by going through a dimension that is as good enough description of Hell as any I've come across." Professor Hawkes opened and then closed the pocketknife before putting it back into his vest. "Not long after that, the team was disbanded by the War Department. The country wasn't ready to have its children die in war just yet."
"So how did he get back?" Ethan asked.
"We're not entirely sure. We do know that he is the same Dannon Griffin who was Sky Dancer-- who was the son of the creator of the formula that resulted in Strikeforce Liberty in World War Two-- who served alongside Victory, Northwind Yankee Zephyr, and Gate. We also know that he absorbed some kind of weird energy while where ever he was that seems to have burned out his memories."
"I don't understand that part. I thought Dannon was a psi," Ethan said.
"He is. But he is also one of only two humans to ever be exposed to massive doses of the Atlantean Gifted Gene Virus-- you do know about that don't you?-- and survive."
Ethan nodded. His father and mother had explained to him that a small percentage of the human population carried a dormant Atlantean Gifted Gene. He also knew that the formula Dr. Daniel Griffin-- was that really Dannon's father?-- was really a flu-like virus that activated parahuman abilities in an even smaller percentage of those who possessed the gene. "Yes, sir. It's what causes the non-mystic based parahumans to be what we are."
"Exactly," Professor Hawkes raised an eyebrow. "However I am surprised you know enough to make a distinction between mystic based and AGG based powers."
Ethan chuckled. "C'mon Prof, sometimes people in the know get so caught up on who my father is that they forget my mom. Remember her, Emerald Stone-Pruitt, vampire hunter and daughter of Walther Stone? You don't get much more mystical than the daughter of a dhamphir."
Professor Hawkes smiled, "You're right. I forgot about that. You of all people would know the finer points of differentiation between AGG parahumans and mages."
"And sorcerers," Ethan added. Might as well lay all his cards on the table, especially to a man who was known as one of the best poker players in the world. "I know the difference between mages like you and Lee, and sorcerers like Shadu. You're power comes from within you. Theirs comes from summoning demons."
"Right, but back to what we were discussing. The two non-mystic paras that we know who've been exposed to massive doses of the AGG Virus and survived have the same power. They are energy vampires. Ambient and active energy feeds, sustains and powers them. Dannon was exposed to a massive dose when his father's lab went up at Pearl, and then again when his daddy brought him home in that long flight sixty years ago."
"And now he's been exposed to a massive dose of nuclear radiation..." Ethan conjectured. "And you think that such an overload may restore some of his memories."
Ethan was confused, "But why don't you want him to know?"
"Because they may not come back. We decided to give him a shot at as normal a life as possible if they don't. There's no reason he should have to fret over what may not ever happen."
"But some of us need to know, in case it does." Ethan suggested.
"Exactly. If he suddenly starts having flashbacks he doesn't understand, he might think his powers are getting out of control."
"I see. So, basically, you want me to keep an eye on him in case he starts remembering about the old team."
"That's about it. And remember, no mention of this conversation to Dannon or the others."
"I understand about Dannon, but why... Oh... because he might pick it up from their thoughts."
Professor Hawkes nodded, "You are a bright boy, aren't you."
Ethan hated being called a boy. "Can I see him now? And Tanya?"
"You can see him now. Tanya will be decontaminating for a while longer."
"Calm down Dannon," Lee pleaded. He'd never seen his quiet friend this excited before. He was disoriented, his reactions and judgment were impaired and he was giggling at everything. In other words, he was a drunk as sailor. "Headmistress Nichols said you couldn't leave this room until you came off this energy spike."
For some reason the word spike sent the young blond into another giggling fit. Finally getting control of himself, Dannon protested, "But I feel fine," Then he started giggling again. "I just want to talk to Dr. Carter."
Lee had a good idea where that was coming from. He knew that Dannon had a schoolboy crush on the tall blond man. Lee had been doing some research on gays and parahumans and was beginning to reach some startling conclusions. The best he could tell, about a quarter of all men who carried the AG gene were gay, and eight out of ten of those who were classified as tanks, individuals with high levels of strength and damage resistance, were queer as football bats. "If you promise to behave yourself, I'll go get him."
Dannon just gave him a lopsided grin, "Cross my heart."
"You'll stay here?" Lee asked.
Dannon shook his head, smiled, and said, "Not going anywhere."
Lee sighed, "Okay. I'll be right back." He turned and left the room, in search of Dr. Carter.
After several minutes of searching he heard the history teacher's voice coming from one of the side rooms. It was obvious that the man was upset. "We almost lost him on his first mission out. It was like forty-four all over again. I don't think I could stand to lose him again like that Beth."
"We didn't lose him," Headmistress Nichols replied. "Tanya stuck with him to make sure we didn't." She seemed to stop and think for a moment. Lee kept quiet. There was something going on here, and it involved the mysterious reaction Dr Carter was having to their newest team member. "What's this really about Sloan? You're not still beating yourself up because he died or at least we thought he'd died on your watch?"
Lee heard Dr. Carter sighed, "It's a long story Beth; one that I'm not going to get into. Ask me in about it after he graduates."
"When it's safe?" she asked. "I think I understand. This is the real reason you and Mandy didn't work out." Lee only heard silence. "He's the same man you loved back then."
"But now he doesn't remember me, and there's this age difference thing," Dr. Carter said.
"You're the same age," Ms. Nichols told him. "But he is your student."
"Exactly," Dr. Carter said.
"So, you'll just wait things out?" she suggested.
"No," Dr. Carter said. "It's water over the dam. He doesn't remember me, so I'm giving him a chance at a new life-- one where I'm simply the mentor, not his team leader, not his friend, and definitely not what he wanted me to be sixty years ago."
"Did you want to be that then?"
Another long silence before Dr. Carter continued, "It was a different age then. People would never accept it." He sighed, "But, yes God help me I wanted it."
"This is a pickle, isn't it?" Ms. Nichols said.
"No," Dr. Carter said. "It's not a pickle because nothing is going to happen. He's my student, and I have responsibility to him, and just like on the old team, I don't shirk my responsibilities no matter what the cost."
"I understand," Ms. Nichols said. "If you need to talk..." Either she didn't finish the sentence or what ever was said, was done so too quietly for Lee to hear.
Before Dr. Carter could answer, Lee silently slipped back to the end of the hall and then called out, "Dr. Carter? You in here?" There was no reason for him to reveal what he knew. He just had to figure out how to resolve it.
"In here, Lee." There was a tone of worry in his voice. "Is something wrong?"
Lee shook his head and entered the small office. "No. Just Dannon wants to talk to you." He turned toward Ms. Nichols, "Hello Headmistress. Any idea how long he's going to be like this?
The blond woman smiled and shook her head, "No, no idea. If his reactions continue to follow the standard path of inebriation, then probably a few more hours, then he'll sleep and wake up with a blinding headache, a mouth full of cotton, and a queasy stomach."
"Did he say what he wanted me for?" Dr. Carter asked.
"No," Lee lied. Actually Dannon had described exactly what he wanted the history teacher for, but there was no need to reveal secrets. Dannon had promised to behave after all.
"Very well," Dr. Carter said as he left the room. "I'll go see what he needs."
"You do that," Headmistress Nichols said. She then turned to him, "And how are you doing Lee? You seem to have come out of the fight unscathed."
Lee shrugged, "Me? I'm fine. They never laid a hand, foot, or energy blast on me."
She nodded, "Professor Hawkes informs me that you are getting quite good at combat magic."
"I've good teachers, ma'am."
She tousled his waxed hair and smiled, "That you do son, that you do. Now let's go see what Dannon wants." Lee turned and followed her back to the med bay.
Sloan entered the med bay, and passed through the door into the private room where Dannon was housed. His conversation with Beth had helped put things in perspective. No matter what had happened back during war, there were some things that just were not done. A relationship with a student was among them.
He smiled at the young man lying on the bed and put on his best teacher face, "You wanted to see me, Dannon?"
The small teen giggled up at him, "Yes sirrrr. When can I get out of herre?"
"As soon as you get over your indisposition," he told him.
"But I'm bored!" he complained.
Sloan chuckled, "Well, you'll just have to deal with it, Cadet." He couldn't help the slip of the tongue back to something he would have said-- had said many times-- when they served together on the first Homeguard team.
"It's not fair!"
He shook his head and smiled, "Life's not fair Cadet."
The small blond began to pout, "Okay. Life's not fair." His brow furrowed slightly as he looked at Sloan's shoulder. "What's that?"
Sloan looked over at his shoulder and asked, "What's what?"
"There on your collar," he pointed in Sloan's general direction.
Sloan looked closely but saw nothing. "I don't see it."
"Here, let me get it," Dannon said getting up from the bed.
"Dannon," Sloan warned, "behave."
"What?" the young man asked reaching up to Sloan's collar. Suddenly Dannon's arm latched rather clumsily onto his shoulder and he pulled himself up into Sloan's face. Before Sloan could react, the young man was kissing him rather seriously.
Behind them the door opened and Beth and Lee came through. "Way to go D-man!" Lee said amused.
Sloan forced Dannon out of his arms, amazed at the strength that the energy the boy had absorbed was giving him. "Cadet Griffin!" Sloan said forcibly. "That was completely out of line! Consider yourself on report!" he barked. Turning on his heels, he left the room his heart breaking at what once was lost.