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by Matt Dempster and Matt Rossi
"I think we're supposed to turn left here."
"Check that map again, would you, Mike?"
"Trust me, dad. Turn here."
The truck made the turn and Mike started to read off signs. "OK...Talcott...Harrison...Jones...ah there it is!" Mike pointed to the tall building on the right. The dorm was not large but it certainly was imposing. Ivy scaled the walls, reaching for the rooftops. Already, windows were open and there were students relaxing on the front lawn, enjoying the late summer weather.
Ed Ketter turned off the engine and hopped out of the truck. He walked around to the back and opened it up. He scratched his head for a second as he stared at the jumbled mess his son had brought with them. "Ok, Mike...why don't you go and see about getting a room key and all, and I'll start taking some of this stuff out of the back."
Mike smiled and nodded, and then moved off towards the front door of the dorms. He passed under a big sign that read "Welcome to Hunter Hall." and was greeted with mass confusion. He looked around for a minute or so, and finally caught sight of a sign with an arrow on it. The sign proclaimed that it was "this way to Sign-in." Mike followed the arrow, and joined the line in front of a rank of desks. As he waited to move forward, he felt a tap on his shoulder.
"Excuse me," a voice said from behind him, "but is this the line for check in and keys?"
Mike and the shortish boy in front of him both turned. The boy in front replied, "Aye, lass. It is indeed, and it's one of the slowest lines I've ever been in." He smiled and stuck out his hand. "Connor Douglas. Glad ta meet ye."
The girl shook it. "Valerie Maxwell. Same here." She was also short, a little chunky, but pretty nevertheless, with short curly brown hair. She grinned up at Mike. "And you are..."
Mike stammered, "I'm Mike, uh Mike Ketter." He shook both their hands. Connor brushed the shaggy hair back out of his eyes. "So, where do ye come from? I figure since we're goin ta grow old and die together in this line, we ought ta get acquainted."
Valerie laughed. "I live in Minnesota. When I got accepted here, I jumped at it. Finally, no more really cold winters!"
Mike shook his head. "Oh believe you me, it'll get cold enough. Trust me. I've lived in northern Maryland all my life."
"Ach, all ye need is thick skin, laddie!" Connor grinned. "Somethin we Scots have in abundance." He turned and looked forward. As he did, the line began to move. A student stalked past them, an angry look on his face.
"Someone isn't too happy." Mike murmured. "Wonder what happened?"
"I dinnae ken. But at least the line's movin'." Connor raised his arms dramatically. "Praise the saints, I willnae die here in the godforsaken line! No, I'll die tomorrow durin' PT!"
The line moved briskly ahead. The man at the first desk asked for Mike's name. He gave it and was rewarded with a room key. The next desk held a validyne card with the Georgetown seal stamped on it. The girl who gave it to him admonished him not to lose it. "That's your ID, your meal card and your building pass. "Lose it, and you're screwed till you get a new one." The final desk gave him a large envelope with his name printed boldly on it along with a red Omega symbol, and a box full of sample size stuff like toothpaste, cologne, and aspirin.
"So where are you guys living?"
Val looked at her key. "Room 301."
Connor said "Well, that's great! I'm in 303!"
Mike looked at him. "You sure?"
"Of course I'm sure. Says so right here!"
"Hmm...I guess things must have gotten changed around a little." Connor cocked his head.
"What do ye mean?"
Mike grinned. "Looks like you're my new roommate."
Connor just stared at mike for a long moment, and then broke into a wide grin. "Wonderful! Come on, lad, I'll give ye a hand with ye're stuff, and then we can lend some help to the lass."
Val laughed. "Great! I'll see you guys in a while!"
Connor threw an arm over Mike's shoulders. "Ye dinnae snore, do ye?"
Mr. Ketter plopped the fridge down in the middle of the pile and surveyed the chaos as Connor and Mike struggled with the bunk beds.
"More to the right...there...oops, no wait.."
Finally the bed settled into place with a click, and the two boys turned to Mike's father. He tilted the baseball cap back on his head, and regarded the two. "That's everything, guys. Mikey, I gotta head back home. Mom called on the cellular. Mrs. Torrance's basement is flooding again, and she's screaming bloody murder."
Mike smiled. "No problem, Dad. Connor and I'll finish this up." Ed nodded. "You take care. Call soon, let us know how everything's going, ok?"
Ed stuck out his head for Connor, who pumped it enthusiastically. "Nice meeting you, Connor. Take care of my boy. Make sure he doesn't get into trouble, okay?"
Connor tilted his head and looked at Ed with wide eyes. "What trouble could he get into here?"
Ed just smiled and shook his head as he stepped out the door. Connor turned to Mike. "Your dad's a pretty good guy. So! "What first? Do we tackle this mess, or do we go and rescue Valerie and her roommate from the drudgery of toting and hauling?"
Mike looked around, taking in the sheer volume of stuff scattered across the floor. "No contest. I say we help the girls."
"Mike, you and I are gonna get along famously."
Mike placed the TV atop the fridge, and stepped back to examine his handiwork. A knock on the open door broke his reverie, and he looked up into a broad smiling face.
"Hi there! You must be Mike and Connor. I'm Scott Pulaski, your R.A."
The three shook hands all around, and invited the new arrival in. Scott plopped down on the lower bunk and sighed. "Been a long day already. So, how are you two settling in?"
Mike cocked his head. "Okay, I guess. This place is a lot bigger than I thought it would be."
Scott chuckled. "Don't let it get you down. I came here from Hay Springs, Nebraska. Population of 200 or so. Quite a jump when I came here. You'll get used to it quick. Everything else ok?"
Connor nodded. "No problems at all."
"Good. OKay, just so you know, tonight we're having a floor meeting. I'm gonna go over some of the procedures and rules around here that the books don't cover. It's sort of a get-to- know-each-other session. It'll be around eight or so."
"We'll be there," said Mike.
"Good." Scott got up and walked towards the door. "Say, have either of you eaten yet?"
Both shook their heads.
"I'm heading to BK...wanna join me?"
Mike shrugged. "Sure. I think Val was gonna join us for dinner..."
Scott grinned. "Great! We can start getting to know each other early, then! Let's collect Val, and be on our way, shall we?"
"So let me get this straight," Connor took a sip of his Coke. "Our floor is a team? And just us?"
Scott nodded. "Yep. I mean, we're all part of the Seekers unit, but for training purposes, our floor is a squad, and we'll be splitting even further into two man teams. I'll be your squad leader."
Val spoke up. "Isn't that sort of unfair? I mean, all of us are freshmen! None of us know what we're doing yet."
Scott smiled. "I know. Actually, the room assignments aren't exactly random. I shouldn't tell you this, but the teams are picked and chosen to complement skills and ability. They put all of you together because, well, you guys are the cream of the crop, so to speak. The high muckety-mucks figure that with yours truly at the helm, you guys'll learn everything you need very quickly. Don't worry. A couple of training session from now, and we'll be holding our own."
Mike coughed. "You know, I've noticed...has anyone asked you what your powers are since you've been here?"
Scott shook his head. "Sort of an unspoken thing here. We're college students, and we're encouraged to interact normally with the other students here. Mostly, we use our powers, but we just don't talk about it much. Makes it easier to get along.
"That's something else I should warn you about. Most of the students here have no problems at all with Omegas, but there are groups who don't like us very much. Plus there are the usual demonstrations and what not. Don't worry about it overly much. Just don't advertise what you can do openly."
Mike got up and dumped his tray, and the group stood. "Did you guys get your uniforms yet?" Heads shook all around. "I think the quartermaster is still in...want to go and get your fancy new duds?"
In short order, the foursome arrived at the supply building, inside the SOTC training gym. Minutes later, Mike was staring at himself in a mirror. Connor stepped up behind him, and looked their reflections up and down. "I can't believe I'm doing this..."
The white jumpsuits fairly glistened, the Omega symbols across the chests a blaze of color, Mike's blue, Connor's red. The jumpsuits were carbon copies of the Seekers real uniforms, merely reversed in color scheme. Behind them on the benches rested t-shirts and boots.
Mike just shook his head, and glanced at his watch. "Oh shit, we better get back. Scott's gonna start soon."
As Mike began to dress down, Connor gave his reflection on more look. "Unbelieveable," he muttered as he stripped down.
"Melanie Staunt. I'm from Pensacola, and I hope to do political science 2E" The tall brunette looked around the room. "My Omega is a bad luck streak. I cause others to have really horrid luck."
Scott smiled. "What did the brass decide to call you?"
Melanie made a sour face. "Curse."
"Appropriate, if not exactly flattering." Scott smiled at her, and turned to the rest of the group. "Mike, how about you next?"
"Okay...uh, hi. My name's Mike Ketter, and I'm from Dempster Ridge, Maryland. I..uh..I cause glitches in things."
Scott frowned. "How do you mean, Mike?"
"Things just breakdown around me. Electrical, mechanical, whatever, when I do what I do, they just don't work anymore. Oh, yeah, they called me Glitch."
"Remind me not to have you fix my TV." General laughter ensued. "Ok, Connor, you're next."
"Well, that there's a loaded question, Jimmie. M'name's Connor Douglas, of the Clan Douglas, and I'm originally from Glasgow. About ten years ago me and my family moved here. And my power is....ah kin become a puddle."
"A puddle?" Mike looked over at him. Connor had a wicked smile on his face.
"Or a geyser, or a man of ice, or a cloud o' steam, whitevir suits ye. They named me Hydro, which I find horribly unimaginative. I was hoping for Lord of Liquid or something."
Scott grinned. Connor was going to be a problem at times, he could tell, but he liked him anyway. There was something infectious about his good humor.
"All right, Valerie? You seem to be up..."
"Man, I hate introducing myself." Valerie drew a breath. "Hi-I'm-Valerie-Maxwell-they-named-me-Redux. I-can-alter-the- flow-of-time-or-at-least-simulate-same. I'm-hoping-to-pick-a- major-later-'cause-I-don't-know-what-I-want-to-do."
"Very fast, Valerie. Next?"
"Hey, I'm the gimlet's brother Larry. I have a kind of photographic memory thing happening...if I watch someone do something once, I can repeat it perfectly, within my limits. I'm faster and stronger than human norms, so I'm okay against your typical Omega goon, but I'm much less effective against someone who can leap small skycrapers in a single leap. The clever people named me Archive, and like Connor said, I was hoping for something a little more original. I was hoping for Tempest."
Everyone laughed. Connor looked a little jealous that he hadn't thought of it. Scott waited until everyone quieted down.
"Okay, that's good. Now, I already introduced myself to you all, but I'm going to do it again because the book says so, and I don't want you all to feel unsure about me yet. That comes later. Anyway, I'm Scott Pulaski, your RA and Squad Leader for the next year. My codename is Fracture. I can sense the weak spot in an object and...fracture it, for lack of a better word, with a blow. This week will be mostly about getting situated, learning the ropes, and some training exercises to better gel and learn each other's rhythms. While there's no guarantee you'll be together through the whole four years, if you can learn to adapt to the others in your squad, you can survive transfers with minimal difficulty." Scott looked around him. "Now, why don't you all get acquainted? There's a special meeting tomorrow night at six pm, the entire entering Academy class, so eat early. We'll go over the rules and regs more then. Any questions?"
In his room, Martin Barnes fumed.
Fucking God-damn spawn of Satan! Here at Georgetown!
Martin's new room was spartan. A futon dominated the center of the room, given to him by his mother and father as he'd left Salt Lake City to come and study in the Nation's capitol. Georgetown had been a way out of poverty for the Barnes family, because Martin was going to become a famous lawyer and then... he wasn't really sure what he'd do then. It was hard to figure out.
Martin's father, Zebediah, had been a Mormon but had quit the LDS when they failed to come out and explicitly state that Omega powers were the signs of Satan's patronage. There had been a reason for that... Utah and Nevada had a higher than normal Omega incidence rate, just as they had a higher than normal cancer rate. The very same fallout that killed some forced others to trigger, and so the LDS had devout parishoners who could bend spoons with their minds, or fly small distances. It was even rumored, among those dissatisfied with the LDS, that an Omega had taken over the flock with sinister Satan-given mind control powers. If so, he wasn't doing much with them, but paranoia seemed like a reasonable assumption in a time when Indian 'gods' attack and teenagers fly around the world with their shirts off, slaves to the temptations of the flesh. So Zebediah had chosen to embrace the Alpha Manifesto, and Martin supported that whole- heartedly.
They were here, though. They weren't going to leave him alone...unless he made them leave him alone.
He prayed for guidance, his fingers caressing the disassembled device his father had mailed him.
Tomorrow at six, they'd run out of choices.
The next morning, Scott walked down a long hallway, somewhat curious as to what would be so important that they'd call him in the middle of the night and tell him to report in. And to this particular room, no less? He'd never been this far inside the Miresco Building in his life.
A large man at a desk looked up at Scott as he approached the office. Scott allowed his eyes to flicker over the large Keith Haring painting on the wall...exactly where he'd hide a camera, if he was going to hide one. Amazing the things you learn training to be a Seeker, really.
"Name and identification?"
"Scott Pulaski, Seekers Academy 4th Year, I was told to report here." When did I become the Cat in the Hat? Scott handed over his validyne card. The large man stared at him with cold eyes as he swept the card through some sort of scanner, and then gave it back to him. Scott waited for what seemed like an eternity. There was a large flaw in the titanium alloy of the desktop that kept drawing his eyes to it. One shot there, and it would split like a log on a block. He couldn't keep from looking at it, especially since the man at the desk seemed about as much fun as a heart attack. And less pleasant, too.
"You can go in."
"Thank you." You really creep me out, buddy, anyone ever tell you that? Scott stepped into the office and stopped dead in his tracks.
Sitting at the desk was Wes Hickman. Scott felt like he was in a Stanley Kubrick movie, maybe A Clockwork Omega or something. He looked around the room, trying to figure out when Allen Funt was going to jump out and tell him the punchline.
"Scott, have a seat."
"Do you see anyone else named Scott here?"
"Uh...no, no sir." Scott found a chair and planted himself in it. "Uhm...is this about the meeting tonight, sir?"
"No. I'll be there on time. I assume eveything on that score is okay?"
"Good." Wes put down a file he'd been reading through. "I'm sorry, but I'm afraid I'm about to make life more difficult for you, Scott. I know the liason would usually handle this, but I know what I'm about to do is unusual in the extreme, and I figured that I owed you my personal attention."
He slid the file across the desk, and Scott picked it up.
"That's the file for two new transfers. They'll be coming in later today, and they'll be assigned to your squad."
Scott's eyes flickered over the files. His mouth went dry as he read them, and he looked up at Wes in confusion.
"I know. They don't read like the material to join the best group of recruits we have. And maybe they aren't. But I'm sponsoring both of them myself, and in truth, they need the hard tempering that you can provide. Each of them has abilities that can help complete your team. And besides," Wes smiled at Scott, remembering long ago in a far away place. "Every squad needs some screw-ups."
Connor roared down the pipes.
It's hard to explain, really. One second he was standing in the shower, rinsing off some of the muck, and then with a blink and a smile he was water pushing himself up the shower-head.
The feeling of being water was, as always, a kind of ecstatic trance. Literal ecstasy, out-of-stasis, feeling freed up from mundane existence. He had no idea how he sensed the world in water form, but he did, after a fashion. He found himself in a massive tank, mingling with the aqueduct for the campus, and then felt around for the path back.
To realize he hadn't been paying enough attention. If he could have smiled ruefully, he would have. Instead, he headed for the pipe that lead back to his floor, at least. He could get into the area of his room and search from there. He hoped.
Rushing back, he thought he was on the right floor, but he wasn't sure. Then he felt someone opening a faucet, and slid towards it.
Well, if he was on his floor, why wasn't the shower still running?
Maybe Mike turned it off.
Why would he do that?
Boyo, if'n ye came in t'the bath and saw th' water blastin on wit ne'er a body in it, ye'd turn it off.
He had to give himself that one.
In fact, in the game of internal debate, Connor lost to himself more than you'd expect. But at least Connor always won, which was a good thing.
Ten minutes earlier:
Melanie didn't like much about her situation at the present. For starters, it was six-thirty in the morning. She had a huge day. First was Introduction to Political Thought, which was being taught by Miss Daven-Mirashi. People had already heard Melanie say that, and turned away shuddering, so she wasn't tremendously thrilled about that. Then there was Tactical Development and Strategic Thought, where her instructor would be someone named "Backstop." This wasn't making Melanie feel any better: If people actually went around calling her 'Curse' on a regular basis, she might become violently ill. Plus, she'd had another censuring letter from her uncle. He found the whole concept of a woman agent somewhat off putting, he said, although he was trying to be better about it. She didn't really want to think about that either. It was scarier than those damn aliens had been all through the summer.
Almost absently, she remembered the sight of Hollywood in flames, as she'd been drafted to use her powers along side the real Seekers because she'd been in the area taking orientation. No one had been happy about it but her, oddly enough. Things normally were so dull for her that it had been nice to see something new. She wondered where that aplomb came from, even though she knew.
Plus there was that funny gurgling sound in the pipes.
After a few minutes of puttering around the "kitchen" (really just the sink and a coffee-maker) she grabbed the coffeepot and opened the cold water.
And a volcano of water erupted out of the nozzle, shocking her back three steps, still clutching the pot in her convulsing left hand. For a second, she thought she was under attack...and then the water started to congeal. It took an icy cast, and then contracted...and a naked, bone dry Connor Douglas was squatting perched on her countertop.
"Hello, lass. I'm terribly sorry to intrude, but could I trouble ye for a towel or maybe a bathrobe ? I got lost while taking my shower."
She looked at him for a moment.
"Why don't I ever have a camera when these things happen?"
"Ye've had naked men pop out're ye sink before?"
"No, but the agents of SKULL attacked my sixth birthday party."
"We'll, I can see how ye'd be jaded, then. The agents of SKULL?"
"Hey, I didn't name them." Melanie turned to the minifridge. "I was about to make some coffee, and there's a bathrobe in my bedroom that'll fit you. It was my dads, and he's bigger than you."
"I'll be sure to remember ye've got a big da."
"Well, don't keep it burned into your memory or anything." She smiled at him, and Connor felt the oddest urge to blush. "Go get dressed, I'll make us some coffee, and you'll explain to me why you thought it a good idea to go riding naked around the pipes."
"If'n I ken I'd be gettin' coffee out of it, I'd've done it yesterday night." He hopped down off of the counter-top, half expecting to see Melanie avert her eyes. She didn't, and this time he did blush. "Ah...could ye...I mean..."
"Oh, come on. You haven't got anything I haven't seen before, and yours is in better shape than most anyway. Go get the robe."
"Yes ma'am." He smiled and headed towards the bedroom, just through the grey metal door, and Melanie nodded quietly to herself. Men should never be allowed to have powers. They just misuse them. I suppose I'm lucky he didn't come in on me in the shower. Or is that unlucky? God, make the coffee, Curse.
She stuck the pot under the sink and turned the water on.
"So...you popped naked out of her sink, and instead of calling security or beating you senseless, she had breakfast with you and you talked about home with her, and she told you about this almost-mythic uncle of hers, and you two are getting together tonight to have dinner?"
"Yes." Connor took another swig of his soda. Caffeine, in his opinion, was the sole American contribution to the world, and the one he appreciated the most on a personal level.
"I don't believe you." Mike pulled his jacket on.
"Ye think I'm lyin'?"
"No. No, I think you are telling God's truth." He gave Connor a searching luck. "I just can't quite grasp the fact that you exist is all."
"Ah, but that's one of God's mysteries, isn't it?" Connor finished his soda, threw it in the recycling bin, and looked around the room for another one. "Didn't I have another one of these out?"
"You had five others out. Then you drank them, and now you have none. C'mon...I gotta get to class, and so do you."
"Ahrr. A man's work is never done." Connor got up slowly, enjoying the creak of his bones. It was always odd, readjusting to having them after having been liquid. Ice was easier to relate to, but hard to maintain in the wrong temperature, as he was always having to concentrate on holding himself rigid. "Well, it's off to Literature Survey 1 for me. Ah hope they don' cram more of "Rrrrrobbbie Burrrrns" down my throat. I used to hate that every teacher I had in the states assumed I was president of his bloody fan club."
"Your accent comes and goes a lot."
"Aye. I try and keep the Americanisms from creeping in, but what can ye do? I spent the last eight years learnin' em." Mike had a NATO field pack full of books. "Where'd you get all of those?"
"The school book store."
"Last night. It was open and I had my schedule, so there it was." They walked out the door, Mike hoisting the pack to his shoulder. "Say, maybe Valerie and I could join you two tonight? Unless it's private..."
"Course not! Y'both come right over t'our table! We've got that assembly to go to anyway. Is her brother gonnae be with ye?"
"Yep." In fact, Larry was right behind them, startling them both. "Hey, Mike, what's up? Connor...you move fast, man."
"Larry. You scared the shit out of me!" Mike shook his hand. "How come we didn't hear you behind us."
"I was mimicking your movements. Every step you took, I took. Every breath you took..."
"You'll be watching me?" Connor cut in. "That's impressive. You can do that with everything?"
"Yep. Makes for strange hobbies, but PE class was always a breeze. I'm heading over to Tactical Development and Strategic Thought right now. You two?"
"Introductory Lit for M'sel. And Mike here is heading for the evanescent grind o' calculus. I guess you and Melanie are on your own. Are ye't be paired, then?"
"I guess that's the way it looks. It kind of makes sense...I'm used to my sister, so they'll be wanting me broken from old habits, and Melanie's bad luck powers combined with my enhanced reactions and archiving enemy attacks should make for pretty effective skirmishers." He looked around the campus. "Have either of you gotten any weird looks yet?"
"Except for the one I made happen m'sel, nay. Have ye?"
"Yeah. There's this guy I saw in the cafeteria, just staring at me. It made me feel like I had bugs on my skin or something. Don't really know why."
Barnes cursed as he made the last connection. It had taken a lot of prying and skulking to discover where and when the evil ones would be having their meeting, but it had been worth it. He closed up the black plastic casing and sealed it with his Makita, and then pressed a black button next to an LED display.
The letters lit up with a red light. ARMED.
Martin Barnes smiled.
When Connor got to the cafeteria, he saw that Melanie and Larry already sitting at the table. At the same side of the table. And Larry was looking at Melanie a lot. As she laughed at one of his jokes, Connor felt a strange tingling around his hand.
He looked down and noticed that his fist was turning into ice.
Down, boyo. Y'don own her.
"Connor!" Melanie waved, and he walked the rest of the way, sitting opposite from Melanie and giving Larry a small nod. "I was wondering when you'd show up. How was your day?"
"Tolerable. Lit class wen' aboot like I expected, but not horribly so, and no one asked me to read "My luve is like a red red rose" or anythin' like that. But Dr. Satterthwaite in Intro Music needs ta have his arms broken. All he nattered on about was 'Schonberg' and atonality like John Cage was gonna pop outta the closet and kiss his arse."
"They must love you." Melanie smiled. "Well, Larry and I just had our asses handed to us by Lt. Backstop, aka Holly Goldberg, as she told us to call her before she began whaling the tar out of us."
"It was kind of humiliating...but she is a training instructor." Larry leaned back in his chair and yawned, kind of the way you would at a movie if you were about to put your arm around your date. Connor tried to inject a bit of menace without posturing too much, and Larry, smiling, put his arm down. Both men were oblivious to the bemused look on Melanie's face.
Just then, Valerie and Mike walked in the door.
"Hey, you two...the rest of the wheels just got here. Hey, Roomie, pull up a chair!" Melanie yelled, and Valerie waved and pointed to them for Mike, who looked somewhat shell-shocked. The two of them managed to scrounge up seats. "What's wrong, Mike? You look like you got run over by an elephant."
"Melanie...Calc II is going to kill me. It's literally going to take human form and kill me."
"He's an upbeat one, isn't he?" Valerie looked around. "What time is it?"
"Then let's get something to eat! The last thing I want to do is meet everybody else on an empty stomach." Melanie walked up to the line, followed by Connor and Valerie, leaving Mike and Larry sitting at the table.
"You aren't hungry, Mike?"
"Naah." He looked down at his hands, trying to figure out exactly what he was doing there. "You neither, huh?"
"I tend to skip dinner. I don't really know why...I just prefer to eat sporadically through the day. Makes me feel at ease. So...are Connor and Melanie happening or something?"
Mike looked up, trying to gauge Larry's interest. He didn't have anything against the guy, but he knew better than to do or say anything that'd screw over his roommate. Finally he said the first thing that popped into his head.
"They've seen a lot of each other recently."
Room 305 was finally inhabited. The administration had gotten quite nervous when they saw the equipment being installed, even more nervous when they heard that there was going to be a co-ed arrangement in the room, and downright anxious when they heard that one of the two inhabitants was going to be Angela Strang, a eight year old Omega whose power was causing her to age three times faster than normal.
They relaxed slightly when they heard who her roommate was going to be.
"So, let me get this straight." Angela basked in the sluggish movements of her arms. The lack of fluid, inhuman speed made her almost giddy as she hung her plants over the window. "Your power's killing you, too?"
"Yep." Jake answered from his position laying on his back on the bed. He was five nine and thin, and a mop of brown-black hair hung down into his face. In a strange way, even though he was fifteen and Angela was only eight, he was the younger-looking of the two...but then again, his powers weren't aging him at an accelerated rate. "If I can survive the next few years, I should develop a nervous system that can handle the strain of my powers, but until then...bug on a griddle. I call it the Angstrom-Psion Curve Effect."
"Uh-huh. What does that mean?" Angela wasn't stupid. But then again, neither was she college educated, even though by her reckoning she'd been alive for twenty-four years. Like her brother Beau, she'd been born with Omega speed, and like Beau, it came with a price.
"Well, right now I can channel the full effect of my electrokinetic powers...magnetism, electical energy, stuff like that...because I can survive the full Psion wave. But I can't handle the energy being generated within my body...it's trying to run through my CNS, and the amounts are just way too disparate. My theory's based on the original studies done in '83 on Shock, one of the rejects from SIRECOM's covert wing. You see..." He stopped himself with an audible click. "I'm babbling, aren't I?"
"Yeah. But you sure sounded like you know what you are talking about. If you don't mind my asking, what's your major?"
"Oh, I'm only here for the Seekers training. I've already got a couple of Doctorates. I may end up giving some lectures...Dean Markhold keeps talking to me about a Physics Symposium he'd like me to participate in, actually. Well, to be honest, I still have to finish my Thesis in Astrophysics...and then there's Comps...but after that the sky is the limit."
"Nope. You happen to be rooming with Dr. Jacob Chevalier, Ph.D in Comp. Sci, Electrical Engineering, Mathematics and Nuclear Physics, working towards his Master's Degree and eventually Doctorate in Astrophysics." He smiled his first honest smile since he'd seen Aegis International explode. "So if you take any courses in those fields, I'll be happy to help you."
She reached out her hand and shook his.
"Angela Strang, former Terrorist and all around menace to society, trained in three forms of Martial Arts, Demolitions, and Hyper-Speed Tactical Combat. If you need help in any of those fields..."
"Shit, you're that Strang! Jimmy told me about you."
"DeLeon? What did he say?"
"That you're out of your mind."
"It's nice to be remembered."
Finally the hellspawn began filling the assembly room. Thirty-seven of them, in all. Barnes stared a hole in the black plastic of the chair he'd left his 'gift' underneath. The detonator was warm in his slightly sweaty grip, and as he sat crammed into the vents the unthinkable happened.
He began to doubt.
They didn't look like hellspawn. They looked like what they were, for the most part...college students. Despite the hours of praying, despite the harsh hiss of his father's voice in his ears, despite the hate he himself felt in his heart for them, Martin Barnes did not know if he could kill them.
Why, God? Why am I having these fears now?
He began to hyperventilate as the image of what would happen if he pressed the red button flowed out of his imagination. Body parts would be littered everywhere, like in the footage of the Sears Tower shearing in half or the destruction in Baltimore. When the alien harbingers of the end had come...Martin remembered Zebidiah's words, how he'd recited in his clear voice, quoting from Revelations as the blue swarm had attacked Times Square.
It had been Omegas who held them back...
This is insane! They're Hellspawn! Satan himself has put his mark on them! Why do you doubt?
They were all seated. Martin looked down at them as they spoke to their fellows, some of them young women around his own age...a couple of them even reminded him of his sister, Mercy.
Not my will, but Yours. Not my will but Your own, God, that I might find peace with Thee.
He saw that one of them was actually sitting on the chair in the center where he'd placed the bomb. With his face frozen somewhere between a smile and a grimace, he slid his thumb down to the red button.
"Ketter. Mike Ketter." Mike shook hands with the young man sitting just past Valerie on his left. Next to him was a girl in her late twenties, if he knew anything about judging that...she kept sweeping her raven-black hair out of her face impatiently. Mike noticed that both of them were wearing funky wristbands that looked like futuristic digital watches. "So you got transfered into our squad?"
"Yeah, looks like. I'm Jake Chevalier, and this is Angela Strang."
"Hey." The woman turned to look at Mike and Valerie. "I'm sorry if I'm flaking on you guys... I just haven't gotten used to this thing." She gestured to the device on her wrist. "Nice to meet you both. Uhm... I'm sorry," she turned her eyes to Valerie. "I don't know your..."
"Valerie Maxwell. So, what are those things?"
"Jake?" Angela turned to him. "You seem to be the resident expert. Why don't you tell them?"
"This is a special Psi-Suppressor that Don Riley, Deb Cowan and I designed to interact with the specific Psi-Signature of the designated wearer. Don provided the exact suppression ratio, Deb designed the bio-sensor registration system, and as always I miniaturized and amplified the projected wave so that it curves around the wearer. Mine suppresses my electrokinesis while I'm out of my armor, and Angela's shuts down her hyper-speed so that she can live and age in normal time." Jake flicked his eyes back and forth, as if trying to decide if he'd left anything out. "The original design was inordinately elaborate...shit, I should wear a muzzle sometimes. Sorry."
"That's okay." Mike looked at Valerie, who was suppressing a laugh. "Uhm, Jake...what can you, uh, do exactly? I mean, your Omega."
"I'm an electrokinetic. I'm pretty powerful, but I have a slight problem with my powers...namely, that they can kill me if I'm not careful. I designed a special suit of armor that draws on and amplifies me...I kind of picked my own code name, actually." He blushed. "They call me Battery. And they tell me to keep clear of you, too. If you also go by the name Glitch, that is."
"Yeah, that's me." An idea occured to Mike. "Jake, do you know anything about Calculus?"
"Sir," Angela replied before Jake could open his mouth. "You happen to be talking to Dr. Jacob Chevalier, Ph.D in Comp. Sci, Electrical Engineering, Mathematics and Nuclear Physics, working towards his Master's Degree and eventually Doctorate in Astrophysics. Yeah, he knows a little bit about Calculus."
The four of them had to laugh, Angela and Valerie first. Mike looked at the slightly deflated expression on Jake's face, tried to fight it, and then he was laughing, and eventually the humor of it overcame Jake's pride and he laughed too.
"What'd I miss?" Connor slid in on the right. "Something good? Did our esteemed visitor actually show up yet?"
"Naah. Connor Douglas, my roommate, these two on my left are Jake Chevalier and Angela Strang. They'll be joining our happy little squad."
"Will ye now?" Connor couldn't keep from flicking his eyes over Angela, but he kept his appraisal as modest as he possibly could. Still, she was very good looking...Jaysus, Connor, are you going to be running around on a woman you haven't even gotten a date with yet? What is with me today? I'm letting that Larry get to me. "I'm pleased to ha' met you both. We'll dance the familiarity tango back at Mike and my palacial room tonight, if he and you agree?"
Mike thought it over.
"Hell, why not? Sure, come on by. I can study later. In fact, Jake, if you want, you could give me a few pointers on Calc II..."
"Yeah. Okay. That'd be cool." Jacob retreated into himself for a second, and then came up for air. "Great! I'll get my old thesis on the Mandlebrot set and its relation to fractal time..." He smiled as he saw the look of panic on Mike's face. "I'm kidding. I'll be glad to help."
"Shhh." Valerie pointed at the stage. "It's starting. Where are the others, anyway?"
"Right behind you, sis." Larry, as per usual, had been sitting right behind them, and Melanie took the last seat directly next to Angela. "Took me a few seconds to find the place. Mel, on the other hand, just got here. Where you been?"
"Hey, everybody?" The voice from the stage rang out. "Could I get your attention?" The room hushed as the Scions R.A.'s took the stage. There were five of them. Scott was near the front of the group, but it was a tall woman with dark bronze skin who was speaking. "Anyway, I'm Carin Lasker, codename Burn, and those of us up here are the Squad Leaders for this year. You already know your R.A. but it's a good idea to know who we all are so you'll be prepared in case of Training Scenarios, Transfers and the like...plus, we like to think of ourselves as friendly people." Everyone laughed, and Carin noticeably relaxed. "Anyway, here we are. I myself am Squad Leader on the 100 level, so come down and visit whenever."
"Howdy." A tall dark guy half-way between man and boy walked forward. "I'm the SL on the 200 level. My name's Aaron Ramierez, and until this week my codename was Force." There was a strange expression on his face, and the thick sound of his voice, as if near tears, caught everyone where they were, rooting them to the spot. "Anyway, I just received word that as of now, I'll be calling myself Energi. He was...he was my Squad Leader when I first got here. So I'm proud that I'll be doing what I can for his memory, and for Karl, my friend. Let's try and remember them."
The room was very quiet for a moment. The breathing of the assembled students, and the struggle in Aaron's eyes to keep his cool, were all that happened. Then he stepped back, and Scott Pulaski stepped forward.
"Uh...wow. Huuh. I'm Scott Pulaski..."
Martin was squeezing his eyes shut. Why was he listening to this? They were already twenty minutes past the point when he'd planned to trigger off the bomb, and yet he sat crumpled up in the vents, listening as Pulaski spoke, and then a young polish woman whose real name he'd missed (her codename was Zephyr) and finally the rather impressive bulk of Wallace Widdershin, who spoke briefly of his own connection to Theresa Yung, who'd taught him to learn how to use his power to charge objects with explosive energy. They all lowered their heads in a spontaneous moment of silence, thinking about these dead Seekers...and Martin felt as if he was having steel wool dragged across his soul.
He couldn't do it.
He hated them, hated them, but they weren't like he'd thought at all.
He took the batteries out of the detonator. After the assembly, he was pretty sure that he could get back into the room and remove the bomb before anyone saw it. And then he crawled away, down the shaft, to escape the voices of his failure scratching at his head.
"I hate speeches, myself." Smattering of applause across the room as Wes Hickman used his Omega to link with the tiny DAT system that controlled the PA. "So I'll keep this short, sweet, and as to the point as I can. The group of you are entering Seekers candidates. There are about two dozen or so others here, but all of them have already been in the program for a while, so I wanted to address some remarks to you, the largest class we've had."
Up behind the podium, Wes looked a little hollow eyed, but that was to be expected from the man who'd more or less been the living tactical center of the entire effective resistance to the Harrakin during the Invasion. Everyone in the room had silenced once he'd begun to speak.
"There are Thirty-Two of you incoming. Obviously, not all of you will make it out. About half of you, in our experience, will wash out in the first year, leaving sixteen. Not all of that group will go on to be Seekers, but we'll assume that ten or so of you will. Those of you who do will be entering what has become a very proud tradition, as well as the best one SIRECOM has, if I do say so myself."
Scattered laughter. Wes himself seemed to loosen up as he spoke, realizing that he was among friends.
"You've heard what Aaron and Wallace had to say about their friends and former instructors who died during the recent crisis. And those people died while under my command, so I want to touch upon that as well. It's risky work what we do, what you are training to do. Ask Carlos Hasseen, who is still in the hospital with dozens of broken bones. People have died doing it. I don't for an instant want to minimize their sacrifice...but I want to point out that each of those people managed, in their time as Seekers, to bring honor to the ranks. I'm very proud of the Seekers, and so far, I've had damn good reason to be." Wes knew he was risking tears as he spoke, and he knew that some of those kids out there might not understand what he was saying, but he went on anyway.
"We do good work. During the Shiva crisis, we were there. When someone had to stop Metro, we were there. When the Harrakin first arrived, or the Fix used them in Washington, or even more recently during the Invasion itself...the Seekers did what had to be done, and we paid for our victory in the lives of good women and men. We have a lot to be proud of...the Seekers have gone from an experiment that most people at SIRECOM thought a joke to a tradition of service and self-sacrifice. And each of you is now taking a chance that might end with you dying the way Theresa, Thomas and Karl died. So please think about that, and if any of you want to leave now, or at any point in the next four years...we understand."
Wes stopped, took a shuddering breath, and waited. His eyes found faces he knew and faces he didn't, young men and women who were slowly beginning to understand what this moment meant. A few seconds became half a minute, then a full one. Finally, Scott Pulaski stepped ahead from his position near the podium.
"I think I'm speaking for everyone, sir, when I say no one is ready to leave just yet."
They assented in different ways. Some of them clapped, a few cheered, Connor hooted, Jake tented his fingers under his chin and leaned forward, Mike fought back a sob, and Melanie yelled. Everyone in the room made some sort of gesture agreeing with Scott, who smiled as he stepped back.
"Well." Wes was also smiling. "I'm...I'm glad for that. Well, then, I guess it's time for an Academy tradition...it's called the Rathskellar, and Jonas will be buying the first round for those of you that can drink, and the first soda or juice for those of you that can't. Welcome aboard."
Some of our cast of characters mingle with the night life and discover that they aren't the only young Omegas in town...also, Fracture teaches the squad some tactical lessons.
(Oh, by the way, Pete Milan--that's me--has clawed this title away from Dempster and will be your new co-writer. Hi.)
Written by Matthew Dempster and Matthew Rossi. (Geez, there sure are a lot of handsome, intelligent guys named Matt, aren't there?)
The Scions are C.1997 Matt Dempster and Matt Rossi
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