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Annual #1
 
an FDC original series...

Higher Learning
#1
"Diamonds in the Rough"
By David Marshall



Mr. Cobblepot,
As we agreed, I am to provide you with frequent reports on the children's progress. The following is an account of how the students fared on their first test. Sadly, there were precious few blows struck for our side. The superheroes charged hard and quartered the children no mercy. The students performed well for a short while, but the results were painfully predictable. Things fell apart when Superman blew Portia Cheney's feral form into Indira Khandhari, who held the Flash prisoner within one of her stasis fields.
I was quite proud of Indira's performance overall, however. For a rank amateur to capture the Scarlet Speedster so easily was quite a feat. Her time manipulation powers are formidable, but I digress. After Superman slammed the girls into one another, the Flash broke free from stasis and regained his previous velocity and crashed into Tristan Stoner.
(Note to self - Remember to reward young Mr. Stoner for besting Batman as well. It was amusing watching him cower before the young empath.)
With the Dark Knight fully recovered, the heroes regrouped quickly. Wonder Woman overcame young master Beauregard Freebird's attack with little difficulty. However, I believe our resident Geomancer could cause the Amazon considerable difficulty if better trained.
I do wish Chaucer St. Claire would assert himself as the leader of the group, but he shows no interest, nor does he display any semblance of leadership skills. His intellect is prodigious, but his withdrawn demeanor and physical immaturity do little to inspire his classmates. Regretfully, when confronted by the four heroes, he surrendered without securing an escape for himself or the others.
The students need much work, but this was only their first test. These diamonds in the rough are our future. Thank you for your continued generosity in supporting the children's education.
Sincerely,
Prof. Hugo Knott
Professor Hugo Knott
Principal
Windsor Academy of Higher Learning

"Sir, will there be anything else?"
Professor Knott rubbed his tired eyes. "No, Rosa. Thank you for helping with these fund-raising letters. Do you have any idea what a megalomaniac like Kobra would do if we insulted him with a mere form letter?"
Rosa smiled weakly and shook her head.
The Professor's wheelchair creaked as he rolled it to the bay window overlooking the gentle, rolling hills and neatly manicured lawns of the Windsor Academy campus. Tucked neatly into the eastern lowlands of the Colombian countryside it was the realization of his hard work and dreams. Yet in its infancy, as it was now, it was a house of cards. He turned again to his secretary. "You would lose your fingers for addressing him so impersonally and I could only pray for such charity."
Rosa laughed and shrugged off her employer's comment. "Oh, come now, Professor! You shouldn't say such awful things. Besides, Mr. Kobra's letter was quite personal."
Mr. Kobra.
Entire nations dared only to whisper the cult leader's name in reverence and fear, and Rosa referred to him as Mr. Kobra. He wondered how such a sweet old lady ever got mixed up in his crazy dream. A school for young super-villains, indeed!
"Oh goodness," Rosa exclaimed. "It's five-thirty! I promised Reverend Stuggart I'd be ready for dinner by seven. If I may take my leave for the evening?"
"Certainly." Professor Knott dismissed his secretary and sat alone in his office. A mountain of fund-raising letters sat before him. Three-fourths of the intended recipients were either too mobile to receive their mail or too crazy to care. The school's true list of benefactors was limited, but a few bought into his dream. He sighed and rolled his wheelchair from under his desk and glided across the room. A reproduction antique globe sat by the heavy oak doors that guarded his sanity during the academic year. He fingered the sphere lightly, enjoying the topographical depressions beneath his fingertips. He spun the orb and his finger landed on the United States, or as the map called it, Americas del Norte. He missed America. He was never a baseball, hot dog, and apple pie type, but the South American countryside was a far cry from Gotham or the Big Apple. Sure, nearby Buenaventura offered most everything one required and was quite charming, but he missed the excitement of rubbing elbows with the elite of the Gotham underworld.
A quiet knock interrupted his thoughts, causing the Professor to look up. "Come."
Portia Cheney entered the room slowly. Her eyes were cast down, like she expected a scolding. "I'm sorry about the simulation, sir."
"Sorry?" asked the Professor. "Why sorry, child?"
"If I could control my power we would have beaten the Justice League," Portia answered.
The Professor laughed. "We're hardly the first team to fall before the Justice League. We'll find the biological mechanism triggering your transformations and teach you to control it. Learning is what this school is all about."
"I wish my power wasn't such a loser," she replied.
"Nonsense, you have a wonderful power," answered the Professor.
"But what good is it if I can't control it? Do you have any idea how embarrassing it is to change into a snarling beast in the middle of lunch? People want gravy on their mashed potatoes, not doggy drool."
"I meant to ask about that," the Professor replied. "Any idea what triggered your transformation today?"
"Black pepper," Portia answered. "I tried it on my mashed potatoes because Tristan said it added flavor. I didn't like it. I- I don't know. It sounds dumb, right? Beat Mr. Potato Head to a pulp, add some butter, a dash of pepper, and... voila! Raging Teenage Werewolf Casserole!"
"The door was repaired and a new table will be delivered Friday," answered the Professor. "Don't worry, Ms. Cheney. I'm sure you'll do well here. Mr. Cobblepot has a lot of faith in you."
The pretty young blonde rolled her eyes. "Ugh! He creeps me out."
"He takes some getting used to but don't forget that he's taken care of you and your mother since your father's passing." Though the Professor didn't approve of Cobblepot's occasional fancy for a young lady not even legal, it was certainly in the school's best interest to keep the children aware of their scholarship status.
"Yeah, he has the hots for my mom."
And you as well, the Professor thought. "Balderdash! I refuse to believe his motives are less than honorable."
Portia shrugged. "If you say so, Professor K. I just wanted to drop by and say I'm sorry." She smiled and exited the room as quietly as she entered.
The Professor hated to be called 'Professor K' but the unpleasant sobriquet did seem to relax the children around him and he needed them at their best.
"Professor K! Come quick," Portia cried from the hallway.
The Professor wheeled himself through the double oak doors and heard a commotion from the direction of the library. There, he found Beauregard Freebird fighting with a young man he recognized only from his registration records. Rosa had taken care of the young man's enrollment detail while the Professor verified the particulars of a possible mission for his students.
The two young men rolled across the floor with fists and feet flailing. Professor Knott was disappointed that Beauregard seemed to forget his hand-to-hand combat training and floundered away like a schoolyard bully. The other students gathered around the combatants to cheer their effort.
"That's it, Bo! Give him another one!"
"Now call our school lame, freak boy!"
"Watch out, Bo! He's using some kind of power..."
The Professor had seen enough and certainly couldn't' afford for one of his students to kill another. "See here boys! This school is not a playground and I won't condone fighting in my hallways! Break this up at once!"
The boys stopped immediately.
"Uh... Professor K, where did you come from?" Beauregard asked with a sheepish grin. A small trickle of blood trailed from his nose onto his upper lip.
"I'm sorry, sir. This jerk has been on my back all day," the other young man answered from underneath the pile. He still held Beauregard's collar but quickly let it go and straightened his shirt.
"The circumstances surrounding your fisticuffs doesn't interest me, Ezekiel," the Professor answered.
The two young men stood to their feet.
"You know me?" the young man asked.
"Of course I do," answered the Professor. "It's my job to know everyone who comes through these doors. You're Ezekiel Goldman, seventeen years old, from Queens, New York. You absorb energy and expel it in lethal bursts. Am I correct?"
Ezekiel nodded slowly.
The Professor furrowed his brow and leaned forward in his wheelchair. "I want to see the two of you in my office. Now!"
Once inside the Professor's office the boys were quiet. Ezekiel drummed on the arms of his chair, while Beauregard fidgeted and occasionally scratched a mosquito bite on his left arm.
The Professor purposefully maintained an uneasy silence, choosing instead to glare at the boys from across his desk but wasn't interested in listening to them place blame. He marveled at how unpredictable teens could be. His initial worry was the stereotype of a southerner like Freebird having an issue with Tristan's biracial heritage, but they seemed to get along well. So why Goldman? At last the Professor broke the deafening hush. "Am I correct in assuming this will be the last time you boys visit my office regarding this matter?"
"Absolutely," Ezekiel answered.
Beauregard avoided the Professor's eyes but managed to blurt out his answer. "Never again, sir."
"Good, dismissed," said the Professor.
The boys leaped from their chairs in unison and rushed toward the oak doors, obviously relieved to be out from under the microscope of the Professor's scrutiny.
Professor Knott wouldn't let the matter go so easily. "Remember, I have my eyes on you two. One word from any instructor or guest instructor that this matter has flared up again and the next visit to my office won't end so peacefully. Do I make myself clear?"
"Yes sir," the boys answered.
The boys left the office, leaving the Professor alone once more. He retrieved a manila folder from his top desk drawer and opened it. A small shipment of cocaine was scheduled to leave port later in the evening. Unfortunately for the drug lord involved, he was a small fry and his goods would never reach America del Norte. It was a perfect opportunity for the Windsor Academy students to hone their skills. He picked up his phone and punched the intercom button and spoke into the receiver with a measured rhythm. "Dr. Norton to my office, please. Dr. Norton, please report to Professor Knott's office."
Soon, a tall, rangy man slithered into the Professor's office. His lanky presence reminded the Professor of pouring maple syrup over his pancakes on a frigid Gotham morning. His dark, sullen eyes, pale skin, and the unkempt tuft of raven hair on his head gave him the appearance of a dead man walking. Despite his morose countenance, he was a capable tutor for the children and commanded their respect.
The Professor acknowledged Dr. Norton then removed a three-by-five index card from the file box on his desk and scribbled on it. Satisfied with his writing, he laid down his quill. "Barrabas, do you feel the children are ready for a live mission?"
If Dr. Norton felt strongly one way or the other about the Professor's question, his face never betrayed his feelings. "It depends on the level of danger involved, sir."
The Professor laughed heartily and held up the index card for Norton to see. It depends on the danger involved, was etched in black ink against the blanche tableau.
"Why bother to ask my opinion, Hugo, if you choose to speak for me?" Norton spat.
"It just means I know you well, old friend, and I wouldn't have it any other way. I take great comfort in your... certainty."
"The danger, sir?"
The Professor leaned back in his wheelchair. "Level One... at most. Small time cocaine peddlers with a shipment bound for Gotham City. Our benefactor there will appreciate us guarding his profits, and it offers the children a chance to oppose something other than hard light constructs of the Justice League."
Norton cracked his knuckles and appeared to mull over the thought. At last, he spoke. "Backup?"
The Professor shook his head.
"That increases the risk considerably but I think they're capable," Norton answered.
"Good. Take the Goldman boy with you too," said the Professor.
"Hugo! You can't be serious! He just arrived today! He's an unnecessary wildcard! We don't even know how well he obeys orders. With all due respect, it's difficult enough babysitting Chaucer."
"Mr. St. Claire will do well if given a task to complete. Keep young Master Goldman close to you and let him observe. He isn't to take part in the actual confrontation," the Professor replied.
"Why do I let you talk me into these things?" Norton sighed.
"It's my charm,' the Professor answered dryly. He picked up his phone once again and spoke over the intercom. "All students, report to my office! All students, report to my office immediately!"
The students filed into his office quickly which was good. Their response time was getting better. The Professor didn't keep them in suspense. "Children, you have trained hard these past few weeks and I know you're tired of simulations and tests. Tonight, you will perform a live mission."
The students seemed excited, except Chaucer who tinkered with one of his inventions. It resembled a cross between a hand grenade and a transistor radio. Perhaps a word was needed with the boy's mentor about his short attention span. Then again, Professor O'Jeneus was known to do the same thing as a member of the Fearsome Five.
"I caution you though," the Professor added. "Dr. Norton is in charge! Obey him to the letter and you will return safely. Your job is to get in, hit hard, and get out quickly. Is that understood?"
The students nodded and talked amongst themselves while offering slaps on the backs and high fives to one another.
The Professor conceded the floor with a gesture. "Dr. Norton, if you will..."
Norton bowed politely and picked up where the Professor left off. "The strike will take place on Pier Nueve in a little over an hour. Your opponents will be common gangsters and hoods. They should prove no problem for your powers, but remember their guns and bullets are real! These are not hard light simulations! I repeat! These are not hard light simulations! Is that understood?"
Again the students nodded.
"Good," Norton answered. "To that end, each of you will do exactly, and I mean exactly, as I say! Freebird, Stoner, that means no improvising! We leave for the pier in twenty minutes. Meet me in front of the school dressed in basic black uniforms! Now, go!"
The students filed out of the Professor's office in a giddy rush.
"Do you think we're doing the right thing, Hugo?" Norton asked.
"Absolutely," the Professor replied.


Outside Windsor Hall, Fifteen Minutes Later
Zeke Goldman distanced himself from the others, seeking emotional shelter in studying the design of the sleek quinjet parked in front of the school. He wished his social skills were better. The others seemed like a small, close family and he felt like a telemarketer on Christmas Day. He told himself he didn't need their company, but welcomed the warmth overheard in their conversations. Predictably, most of it centered on the excitement of their first mission. However, another topic quickly seized his attention.
"Hey Bo, you gonna let Goldman have it tonight?" Tristan asked.
"Not tonight, bud. The Professor was bitchin' us out pretty bad up there. Wouldn't have happened if James Dean...."
"James Dean would be happy to go Rebel Without a Cause on your ass if you want to settle this right now," Zeke shot back. "Professor be damned!"
Before Bo could reply, Indira anchored her diminutive body between them and glared at Zeke. "You shouldn't speak of the Professor in such a way!"
Zeke studied her eyes. The warmth of her dark pupils calmed him despite the fire in her voice. Raven hair framed an exotically pleasant face. The left side of her nose was tattooed with a tiny marking Zeke recognized as the biological symbol for female. However, the tattoo was upside down.
"It's not the Professor I'm having trouble with," Zeke answered, while looking over her shoulder.
Indira followed his gaze. "Bo, please stop antagonizing him."
"Yeah," Portia piped in. "Give him a chance! We need to be on the same page here."
"I fail to understand why the Professor would ask a newcomer along that has not been properly trained," said Chaucer. He sat on the quinjet's boarding steps, still tinkering with the same device he worked on earlier. His attention never strayed from his nimble fingers.
"Well, he doesn't say much but when he does he makes a good point, huh?" Bo asked.
"Because I'm good at what I do," Zeke answered and glared at Chaucer.
"I meant no offense," Chaucer replied, oblivious to Zeke's leering eyes. "Such a decision is unlike Professor Knott. He stresses training and teamwork. Adding an unknown variable to such an important assignment is unlike his method of operation."
"I'm glad somebody stays awake in Professor Hand's class," Tristan joked.
Zeke wasn't about to lose face to Chaucer of all people. "Maybe he wants a professional along!"
"A professional?" Bo laughed. "Professional what? Panty waste?"
Tristan and Bo slapped high fives.
"Good one," Tristan chuckled.
Zeke stepped around Indira and got in Bo's face. "I've had enough of this, Freebird! We settle this now!"
"Guys, here comes the Professor and Dr. Norton," Portia warned.
"Then maybe they'll see what a bonehead Freebird really is," Zeke answered.
"If you knock us out of this mission I'll kill you," Bo warned. The ground beneath him rose up at his unspoken command and formed a menacing earthen fist.
Indira turned to Tristan. "Quick, do something!"
Tristan looked flustered but closed his eyes.
Zeke wasn't sure why, but he no longer felt like fighting with Bo. In fact, he felt nothing but deep admiration and respect for him. Everything in him wanted to scream that it wasn't right, but he couldn't help but see Bo's strong points. And his weak points... Did he have any?
Bo smiled and extended his hand.
Zeke did him one better. Instead of shaking his hand, he hugged Bo close like long-lost relatives reunited on a missing-persons show.
The Professor and Dr. Norton arrived as the boys released their embrace.
"I'm glad you boys patched up your differences. Your maturity leaves me hopeful," the Professor commended. He stood with Dr. Norton on his left.
Something about that didn't seem right either, but Zeke couldn't put his finger on it. Without a word, everyone formed a single line and stood at attention. Zeke fell into rank and mimicked the practiced stance of his classmates. His utter contempt for Bo returned with a vengeance. Didn't someone say Tristan projected emotions onto others? Did that empathic freak mess with his mind?
The Professor saluted his students. "At ease. I'd like to thank everyone for being here on time, especially you Ms. Cheney. I suppose you find a live mission more exciting than history class?"
Everyone snickered at the Professor's teasing as they came to ease. Zeke recalled Portia rushing into a classroom with a hairbrush in hand when he arrived that morning. She missed the bell by seconds and he overheard an instructor scolding her as the classroom door closed.
A staff worker arrived with the Professor's wheelchair. Finally, Zeke realized what was bothering him. He elbowed Indira, who stood beside him in line. "What's up with the old man? I thought he couldn't walk."
"Shh..." Indira whispered. "Later."
Dr. Norton cleared his throat, shushing their chatter.
"Students, I'm proud of you," said the Professor. "Listen to Dr. Norton and be safe."
"If everyone would board the craft we'll be on our way," instructed Dr. Norton.
Amidst the bustle of boarding the quinjet, Zeke made sure he was close to Indira. "Now will you tell me why the old man is walking? I thought he was crippled."
Indira smiled. "It was quite a shock to us too. He's just an eccentric old man who idolized Niles Caulder and has read too many X-Men comics."
Zeke was shocked. "You mean he's faking it?"
"I wouldn't really calling it faking. Think of it as him playing a role," Indira answered.
Zeke shuffled his feet nervously and forced a smile. He could feel his face twitching the way it always did when he was nervous. "Do you mind if I sit beside you? I don't think anyone likes me."
"Sure, you may," Indira beamed.
Zeke took a seat beside the petite girl and strapped himself in. He wanted to know more about her. In fact, he wanted to know everything about her.
"Hey y'all, look who's sweet on the city boy," Bo announced. "Guess she can't handle a real man!"
"I-I..." Indira stammered. Her face flushed.
"Come on, Freebird. Leave her out of it," said Zeke. "This is between you and me."
"Yeah, you're embarrassing her," Portia pleaded.
"Dude, it's not cool," said Tristan. "City boy is right on this one."
Bo shot back in his seat and crossed his arms. "Fine, take his side! See if I care! But you'd better watch your backs out there."
An uneasy silence filled the passenger cabin until the ship's computer announced in a pleasant female voice, "We are now cruising at an elevation of twenty-three hundred feet. The jet will arrive at its target destination in twenty-six minutes."
Dr. Norton entered the passenger cabin. "I hope you kids enjoy this. You've certainly earned it. There are a couple of other points I want to go over while we're here together. Try not to use lethal force if possible. And above all else, don't do anything that will draw police attention to the pier."
"So we're supposed to hold back?" asked Tristan.
Dr. Norton sighed. "Yes, and no. Do what you must to protect yourself but try not to kill anyone. The school doesn't need the attention, if you know what I mean."
"Yeah," Tristan answered.
"Dr. Norton?" Indira asked.
"Yes?"
"I'm a little...scared. I know I'm probably the only one but I'm not ready to die."
"It's ok to be scared. And I'm sure you're not the only one. What we do is dangerous. Word has it that even some of the big guns get scared before a caper once in awhile. At least those not located in Gotham City. They're usually too psychotic to know better," Dr. Norton chuckled.
Zeke touched Indira's hand. "I won't let anything happen to you."
"Aww... how sweet," Bo mocked.
"Thanks," Indira smiled. She squeezed Zeke's hand.
Dr. Norton shook his head. "Oh no, that's not possible. While your offer is very noble and commendable, Mr. Goldman, it doesn't fit into our game plan. You are to stay by my side as an observer only. Professor Knott was very specific on that point since you've had no training with the others, but I will make an official notation of your unselfishness."
"But..." Zeke argued.
Dr. Norton crossed his arms and shook his head. "No need to protest, son. I have to abide by the Professor's decision and I agree with him. Once you've gotten some real training under your belt, you can take part in the field tests as well. I need to get back to the crew cabin. Automatic pilot can't take her down in stealth mode."
Across the cabin Bo feigned wiping tears from his eyes and wore an exaggerated pout.
Zeke was stunned and humiliated. He'd done well enough on his own that the Funky Flashman recommended him for Windsor Academy. Suddenly he wasn't good enough to knock heads with a group of misfits and amateurs?
Indira took his hand in hers. "I'm sorry, Ezekiel. I can see you are disappointed with the Professor's decision."
"Yeah, it sucks," Zeke answered.
"At least you don't have to worry about Bo sticking a knife in your back," Portia said with a weak smile, trying to make him see the bright side.
"Bite me, Cheney," said Bo. "The Professor knows James Dean can't hang with the big dogs."
Indira squeezed Zeke's hand. "Just let it go."
Dr. Norton's voice blared over the quinjet's intercom. "Attention, students! We are landing! Please remain seated and wait for me before departing the ship."
The quinjet landed smoothly near an abandoned warehouse and everyone filed out. Dr Norton insisted on stealth as they moved toward the pier, cautioning his students to note the environment and survey it carefully. On the pier, approximately thirty men worked hard loading banana crates onto a barge. Several more stood watch, packing AK-47 assault rifles. Aboard the barge, other men stacked the cargo onto palettes.
"Notice how they're stacking the crates onto the palettes," whispered Dr. Norton. "Twelve crates per palette. The three in the very center hold the real goods. They are surrounded with boxes full of actual bananas. At one time it was considered clever. Now, the U.S. Coast Guard tears straight through to the center boxes."
"When do we hit 'em?" Bo asked.
"Does everyone remember their job?" Dr. Norton replied.
The students nodded.
"Ok then. Let's move in but don't charge in like crazed lunatics. Sweep in and utilize the element of surprise."
The plan was sound but fell apart in seconds when Portia transformed unexpectedly and began howling and snarling.
"What the hell is that?" someone yelled from the docks.
"It's coming from the north," another shouted.
Portia turned to her classmates, offered a menacing guttural growl, and raced to the pier.
"Everyone move, now!" Dr. Norton commanded.
Within minutes the sounds and smells of battle filled the air. Molten lead peppered the pier, lighting up the night like fireflies on steroids and leaving behind the pungent aroma of wasted shell casings. A stray bullet tore into Portia's right thigh but she kept charging, either unaware of the injury or ignoring it altogether. She leaped into a group of men and attacked with animalistic ferocity. Men screamed and swore in both English and Spanish as her razor-sharp teeth and claws sunk into their flesh.
"Madre de Dios! Es un diablo!"
"Somebody shoot this damn thing!"
Another group of men fought with one another as Tristan walked calmly among them. While they were preoccupied with one another, he rendered them unconscious with a pipe he found on the ground.
Chaucer retrieved the small device he'd worked on all day and tossed it into the midst of the conflict. An energized canopy emerged, trapping several thugs within. Their panicked struggle was pointless. With the touch of a button on Chaucer's wrist the men dropped to the ground, covered their ears, and pleaded for mercy. One by one they fell unconscious. Having immobilized his foes, Chaucer dropped the artificial environment.
Zeke looked to Dr. Norton. What the...?
Dr. Norton smiled like a man who just understood the punch line to a joke heard long ago. "Mobile white noise environment! So that's what you've been so preoccupied with! Clever, boy," he whispered excitedly.
Indira targeted the deck hands hurrying to raise the anchor. A cone of purple energy leaped from her hands, imprisoning them in stasis. Trapped like prehistoric insects in petrified sap, it would take them somewhere in the neighborhood of twelve million years to accomplish their task.
An enormous water creature roared to life from the ocean, drawing the attention of a group of hoodlums on the barge's deck. They fired shots into it repeatedly to no avail. It swiped them with a wave of its angry hand. Mother Nature's fury and Bo's will were an impressive pairing. The force of the waves swept his foes off the pier to the beach below. The pristine, white sand that made Buenaventura a tourist destination wrapped them up like breakfast burritos. Bo was a loudmouth but he handled himself well.
And all the while, Zeke watched with Dr. Norton, crouched safely behind the shelter of discarded fifty-five gallon drums. Police sirens blared in the distance but were getting closer.
"Come on, kids!" Dr. Norton whispered under his breath. "Mop things up and let's get out of here. We don't need to be around when the police arrive!"
The mop-up operation was going well until three figures appeared on the deck of the barge with a large cannon. Zeke had seen one like it before on the evening news. S.T.A.R labs made them for regular police units to use against metahumans. They aimed the cannon at Indira.
"Come on, little lady, get out of their way," Dr. Norton pleaded in a hoarse whisper. "Look behind you!"
Still holding the men at the other end of the ship in stasis, Indira was oblivious to the danger.
Zeke bolted into the fray. "Indira, look out!"
He heard Dr. Norton shout after him. "Get back here, boy! You'll be killed!"
Zeke didn't listen. Superman could survive a blast from such a powerful weapon. Unsuspecting teenage girls couldn't. He just hoped he would make it in time. He pumped his legs as hard as he could and begged whatever gods would listen for more speed. Indira looked up as he approached. So close and yet...
He leaped.


Pier Nueve, Thirty-six Minutes Later
"Everything will be fine," said Tristan. He placed his arm around Indira's shoulders. "I've got a MACE c.d. in the quinjet. There's a song on there that might calm..."
"No, it won't! This is all my fault! If I wasn't so stupid this would never have happened." She pulled away from Tristan's embrace. "Please, I want to be alone!"
Tristan nodded, leaving Indira to herself. Things weren't supposed to end this way. Her team was supposed to rout the smugglers and return to school victorious. Now, Zeke was badly injured because he saved her life from a blast intended for her and the police were questioning Dr. Norton. The pier was swarming with cops and reporters wanting to know more about the school and the students and their involvement in the smuggling operation. Some called them heroes. Others swore they were vigilantes. The flashbulbs from the photographer's cameras infuriated poor Portia, who was trapped beneath a steel net. She clawed at the netting and grew angrier, making her transformation back to a normal girl even more difficult.
<"We came here to stop them!"> Dr. Norton shouted to the cops in broken Spanish.
<"Are you crazy, senor?"> asked the detective in charge of the investigation. <"These are children! What were you thinking?">
<"Children with extraordinary powers,"> Dr. Norton replied. <"It was our responsibility...">
<"Your responsibility? Protecting the public is our responsibility,"> the detective shouted.
Indira wondered if they would all be arrested. Not that an arrest was the end of the world, but she wanted to follow the ambulance to the hospital.
The emergency workers were doing their best to revive Zeke but he wasn't responding. Why weren't they moving him into the ambulance and rushing him to a hospital? Was he hurt that badly? Please, just get him up off the pier! She barely knew him but felt a strong connection between them. How could the gods be so cruel? Sure, Zeke improved his karma by saving her life, but did that mean she was bad in her former life? After all, she went from orphanage to orphanage in this life before Kobra found her. Was losing Zeke just further proof of her bad karma? She chided herself for thinking such thoughts. She was not going to lose him. They just met.
One of the rescue workers stood and shouted for the detective. He and Dr. Norton joined the huddle around Zeke's fallen body, cloaking him from Indira's view. They stayed there for some time, nodding and shaking their heads to one another. Indira wished she could hear them but they were too far away. One of the men went to the ambulance and retrieved a black box. Finally, everyone moved aside to make room for the emergency crew.
The man with the black box dropped to his knees and opened it. Indira wasn't sure what the box was for until the man placed paddles on Zeke's chest.
"Go," he shouted to another man.
The second man flipped a switch and current ripped through Zeke's body, forcing it to spasm before the current mercifully stopped.
Still, he lay motionless on the pier.
"Go," the man yelled again.
Again the current caused Zeke's body to convulse.
Still, he lay motionless on the pier.
"Go," the man shouted again.
One more time Zeke's body lit up like a bottle rocket.
Still, he lay motionless on the pier.
The man holding the paddles removed them from the boy's chest and bowed his head. He turned off the power to the electroshock kit and dropped the paddles. His hands rested on his knees as he looked up at Dr. Norton. "I'm truly sorry. We did all we could do."
Indira fell to her knees as the men covered Zeke's body with a white sheet. "No! No!"

Continued.....


Thank you for reading this first issue of Higher Learning. This series was a dream of mine when I first started at FDC. I mentioned a few times before that I was developing an original FDC series and now you are reading it on your screen. I wanted to get All-American and Legionnaires rolled out and healthy before taking on an original. Along the way, I've rolled out Birds of Prey (and a few other odds and ends), but Higher Learning never left my mind. I made sure I could handle my load by getting the first seven issues ready before submitting this one. So I have plenty of material to keep the updates current.
In upcoming issues, we'll get to know the students better (and their enigmatic Professor) and see some of the staff in action.
I know what some of you are thinking. Dave's gonna dib a bunch of good villains and we won't be able to use them or they won't appear in the titles I read. <Insert annoying buzzer sound effect and Richard Dawson too if you like>. Wrong. Nothing could be further from the truth. Whenever my supporting cast is used elsewhere it only gives me a richer pallette to paint with. I have a few more students to introduce but you should know at least one of them.
The series should be an exciting ride. My hope is that you have as much fun reading it as I do writing it.
David

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