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Annual #1
an FDC original series...

Higher Learning
"Everybody Freeze"
By David Marshall

*note – the following story takes place before the events of Dangerous Toys

Professor Hugo Knott wheeled his chair around the front of Professor Hand’s Strategic Criminal Theory class. The students snapped to attention when he rolled in minutes before. Not that they were unruly previously but he was pleased they showed him such respect. “Good morning class! How did everyone feel about their missions?”

No one volunteered an answer.

“Mr. Stoner?” Professor Knott asked, turning to the young man on the left side of the room.

Tristan eyed Portia Cheney and chose his words carefully. “It went… not well.”

“Ms. Cheney?” the Professor asked.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Portia replied.

“Curious responses. You met your objective and isn’t that what is important in our profession?” Professor Knott asked. “You should feel elated! Congratulations!”

Portia didn’t look up “Sure, whatever.”

The Professor wasn’t certain what was bothering the pretty young girl but decided not to press her lest it be related to teenage hormones. “Mr. Thurston? How was your adventure with Mr. St. Claire?”

Mastodon sat up straight in his chair. “Me and the Lab Rat?”

“Chaucer and me” Professor Knott corrected.

“Yeah, what you said,” Mastodon answered. “We did ok.”

The Professor turned to Chaucer St. Claire. “It did not escape my notice that you returned with a souvenir, Mr. St. Claire.”

“My apologies, sir,” Chaucer replied. “I can modify the technology to defend the school against incidents like the recent one with El Diablo Ramon.”

The Professor nodded. Coming from anyone else such an answer would have been a lie to deflect punishment. From Chaucer such a pronouncement was likely absolute truth. Besides, Ramon destroyed the school once and the Professor didn’t want it to happen again. “Is the stolen tech traceable?”

Chaucer shook his head. “No sir. I took care of that before we left the lab.”

“Good. Devise an adequate meta-level security system and I’ll overlook this indiscretion,” said the Professor.

Chaucer nodded. “Yes sir.”

Georgia cleared her throat.

“I haven’t forgotten you and Mr. Goldman,” said Professor Knott. “My friend and colleague, Mr. Brimstone informed me you performed exemplary!”

“Thank you sir,” Georgia replied. “But I was really just clearing my throat.”

Mastodon laughed. “There’s something different about ol’ Horse Mouth this morning! Is she wearing makeup?”

The fiery blush in the awkward girl’s cheeks wasn’t lost on Professor Knott. “Mr. Thurston! If such commentary represents the extent of your contribution to the classroom environment then perhaps you’d enjoy detention!”

Mastodon slouched back into his seat and crossed his arms. “Haw! There ain’t been a room built that can hold me!”

Professor Knott didn’t appreciate the young man’s haughty attitude. “No, but I promise my meta-human dungeon can! It’s on par with the security at Iron Heights.”

The smug smile melted from Mastodon’s face and the Professor turned back to Georgia. “The difference you notice in your classmates is that Georgia and Mr. Goldman are the recipients of new abilities!”

The class was surprised and questions flew quickly.

“What kind of abilities?” Bo shouted.

Indira turned to Zeke. “You didn’t tell me you had new powers!”

Zeke shrugged. “I just got them last night. Besides you haven’t had much to say to me lately anyway.”

Professor Hand whistled over the din. “Pipe down, miscreants! The Professor is speaking!”

The class settled down.

“Thanks to an encounter with a magical being, your classmates were presented with the opportunity to choose one magical item each. The talismans they chose imbued them with new powers. Ms. Sivana, would you please enlighten the class regarding your choice?”

Georgia stood and closed her eyes for a moment. She took a deep breath and when she opened them her countenance steeled. Her spine stiffened and confidence radiated from her being. “I chose a potion that gave me supernatural leadership and strategic skills.”

“You could choose anything you wanted?” Bo asked. “And you wasted it on that? If it was me I’d…”

Professor Knott cut him off. “I applaud Ms. Sivana’s decision. Such maturity and wisdom will serve her well in the underworld. Heaven knows we could use more thinkers in this business!”

“What about Zeke?” Tristan asked, thumbing over his shoulder in the young man’s direction. “What did he get?”

Before the Professor could answer, Zeke shot into the air and flew around the room. A trail of sparkly fairy dust followed wherever he went. “Dude! I can freakin’ fly now!”

The class stood to their feet and gushed over Mr. Goldman’s new ability. Even Bo Freebird was impressed.

Professor Knott sighed. “Return to your seats everyone! And Mr. Goldman… keep your posterior plastered to your seat while in the classroom environment. Do I make myself clear?”

Zeke landed and took his seat once more. “Yes sir.”

The Professor turned to Indira and Bo. “Of course not all went well. I’m sorry, but I am forced to fail you both.”

“But sir...” Indira argued.

The Professor shook his head. “I’m sorry, Ms. Khandhari, but you were assigned to escort cargo for a client. That same cargo now occupies our temporary guest quarters. That is unacceptable.”

Indira looked away. “Please don’t call them cargo. They’re human beings.”

“May I, sir?” asked Professor William Hand.

Professor Knott nodded and conceded the floor.

“In this line of work we are sometimes confronted with conflicts of conscience. This serves as an excellent example of why we maintain a professional distance when accepting work-for-hire. Tell me, Ms. Khandhari or Mr. Freebird, was there a jailbreak or some mitigating circumstance that alerted you to the situation with the young ladies in question?”

Indira shook her head. “No sir.”

“Then I am to postulate the circumstances surrounding your coup were proactive?” Professor Hand asked.

Indira didn’t answer.

“As I thought,” Professor Hand replied. “You got involved. There are times when knowing as little as possible is to your benefit.”

“But you always tell us to know as much as possible about the situation,” Bo retorted. He quickly threw his hand in the air after the fact when Professor Knott glared at him for speaking out of turn.

“That is true, Mr. Freebird,” Professor Hand answered. “But what is rule number one everybody?”

“There are no rules,” the class answered in rote.

“Excellent,” Professor Hand replied. “You must learn when to follow the rules and when to bend them.”

“It was probably my fault,” Bo interjected. “We’ll do better next time.” It was an uncharacteristically noble gesture from the young man who was typically more content to torment his classmates than to deflect negative attention away from them.

Professor Knott nodded. “I’m sure you will.”

Indira stood with tears in her eyes. “With all due respect sir, I can’t accept that! I’ll not look the other way and allow another human being to be bought and sold! It’s a line I can’t cross!” She rushed toward the classroom door.

“Ms. Khandhari! Do not leave this room!” the Professor ordered. He would not allow a student to walk out on him in front of the others.

She reached the door and turned the knob. “I’m sorry…”

Professor Knott got up from his wheelchair and moved toward her. He wasn’t sure what his intentions were. It certainly wasn’t to discipline her but he had to do something. “You will release that doorknob and return to your seat this instant! Do I make myself clear?”

Indira dropped her head. A moment later her heaving sobs filled the room.

Georgia left her seat to comfort her classmate. “It’s okay, Indira. We’re here for you.”

Mastodon’s raucous bellow filled the room. “I guess some people don’t have what it takes for this gig!”

Zeke jumped up and drew his fists. “Shut your hole Jake or I’ll shut it for you!”

Like a bodybuilder flexing and ripping out of his shirt, Mastodon didn’t even bother to stand first. With one motion his seat exploded from beneath him and he was on his feet. “Only the old man calls me Jake!”

“That’s quite enough gentlemen!” Professor Knott yelled over the fracas.

Professor Hand made his way to the boys and pushed them apart. “Not in my class! Do you understand?”

Confident Professor Hand had control of the boys, Professor Knott returned to his wheelchair and turned his attention back to Indira. She was crying even harder. “Ms. Khandhari, perhaps you should come by my office…”

“Everyone, please stop,” Indira whispered.

Georgia glared at the Professor and shook her head. “I’m sure she just needs time.”

Whatever potion Brimstone gave Georgia worked wonders. The Professor felt compelled to comply with Georgia’s suggestion. He tried to reason with Indira once more. “Ms. Khandhari, if you’ll just…”

Indira shook her head. “No! Everyone please stop!”

On the other side of the room, Jake Thurston drew his fist back but was met by a bolt of emerald energy so dark it looked almost black.

“I said, “Not in my class!” Professor Hand shouted to the stunned young man. The dark energy construct took the form of a serpent and slung Mastodon to the back of the room where he slumped to the floor.

“Stop it!” Indira screamed. “Everyone just….”

Purple bands of energy leaped from Indira’s hands and flooded the room like a starburst. Professor Knott was always impressed with the girl’s formidable stasis power but as it washed over him, he found it terrifying as well. Was it because he understood what was happening or did the energy simply invoke primal fear as it shot toward him? He knew time was about to grind to a standstill and wondered what it would be like if Indira never removed her stasis beam’s effect. For some reason he felt the need to take a deep breath as the energy washed over him. Perhaps it was merely an involuntary reaction to the realization that he was completely in the thrall of the girl’s awesome power but he couldn’t help but think of the many species of insect that fall prey to various invaders that relegate them to little more than incubating zombies.

Indira rushed from the classroom and slammed the door behind her. She looked to be moving impossibly fast but the Professor realized it was the effect of the stasis ray throwing his reality out of sync with her movement.

And then the world simply stood still.

Professor Knott’s Office

Sandy Anderson knocked lightly on the door.

“Come in,” said a woman’s voice in a very thick Spanish accent.

Sandy entered the impressive office and found an older Hispanic lady seated behind a desk. The nameplate on her desk read, “Rosa Hervegas, Secretary”.

“May I help you?” the lady asked.

Sandy wasn’t sure what to say. She needed help in the worst kind of way, particularly a good place to stay and the Windsor Academy campus was amazing. She was farther away from home than ever before but it was certainly more impressive than other places she stayed since leaving home. “I’m Sandy. Sandy Anderson?”

The woman’s face lit up and she stood. “Oh certainly! The Professor hoped you received his invitation to join our school!”

Sandy smiled. “I did.”

The woman placed her hand on Sandy’s back and led her toward the big double Mahogany doors she entered moments before. “And you’re going to be joining us?”

Sandy shrugged. “I’m here. I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be rude. I’m just nervous.”

“Excellent,” said the lady, oblivious to her apology. “Please call me Rosa, except when Professor Knott is around. He insists it isn’t proper for students to call staff by our first names but I’ve answered to Rosa Hervegas most of my life and Ms. Hervegas seems much too formal for me. But he signs the paycheck so I suffer his eccentricities.”

Rosa led Sandy into the hallway. “Do you prefer Sandra or Sandy?”

“I’m just Sandy,” Sandy explained.

Rose nodded. “I like it better as well. It fits. Follow me Sandy and I’ll take you to your classroom. Professor Knott usually handles such tasks but he’s in Professor Hand’s Strategic Theory class already. I think you’ll really like it here.”

“I hope so,” Sandy replied. And she did. For too long she lived on the run and that was long before the sun went out. She was sixteen years old and wasn’t even sure where home really was anymore.

Sandy saw the main entrance when she arrived but Rosa escorted her through a set of back doors and into a magnificent courtyard. About a hundred yards to the north and to her left was another building. It wasn’t nearly as elaborate as the Main Hall and looked to be partially under construction. An elaborate marble fountain and statuary dominated the courtyard. To the left also about a hundred yards but to the south was a large hillside but with a surprisingly gentle slope. She couldn’t help but notice a very large tree near its base. It looked like a great place to sit and get away. Near the tree sat another group of smaller buildings. She guessed they were dorms. “The campus is beautiful!”

Rosa laughed. “We’re proud of it but don’t get too used to it.”

“What do you mean?” Sandy asked.

“The school has a habit of being destroyed and rebuilt,” Rosa explained. “You grow accustomed to the constant change.”

Sandy was certainly no stranger to change.

They reached the building to the north and Rosa led her through another set of double doors. They walked down the hall together and spotted a few girls in a computer lab with a creepy bearded man but teacher and students seemed to have trouble communicating.

“That is Dr. Light,” said Rosa. “Between you and me he doesn’t seem like a nice man and his knowledge of computers seems dubious at best. I’m not sure why the Professor hired him to teach a subject he knows so little about.”

The pair passed several classrooms and a lunch room before making a right and entering another hallway filled with more classrooms.

“How many students attend this school?” Sandy asked. “I thought it was very exclusive.”

Rosa nodded. “It is but the Professor dreams big. He builds like we have hundreds of students but you will be our twelfth, counting the girls rescued from the jungle.”

“Rescued from the jungle?” Sandy asked.

Again Rosa nodded. “The three girls we saw in the computer classroom but it’s a very long story and we’ve reached our destination.”

Sandy nodded. The room looked like any other classroom in small town America but this one was in South America and an older bald man commanded the room with an imposing presence despite his wheelchair. His arms were raised in a peculiar gesture as if warding off some unseen danger. She could see a smattering of students in the room. They looked much different than the girls she passed in the computer lab. Oddly, no one moved a muscle inside the room.

“Professor!” Rosa cried. She threw open the door and purple energy exploded into the hallway.

“Look out!” Sandy warned. She flew into the air and plucked Rosa away in the nick of time. The purple energy shot into a locker across the hall and bathed it in a violet glow. “What the sprock?”

Rosa seemed surprised to be flying but she also wasn’t sure what to make of the sight. “I’m not sure what a “sprock” is but I think I understand the sentiment. And I must agree with you.”

Sandy landed with Rosa and the violet glow radiated the hallway.

“Professor?” Rosa called.

There was no answer.

“Let me try,” said Sandy. She slinked along the wall, careful to avoid the purple ray, and paused by the doorway. “Professor Knott, this is Sandy Anderson! I’m here with your secretary, Rosa. Is everything okay?”

Again there was no reply.

Sandy turned to Rosa and shrugged her shoulders. “I’m not sure what the purple energy is but I bet it’s the culprit.”

“The poor Professor and those kids!” Rosa replied, wringing her hands.

Sandy realized Rosa wasn’t typically involved in such matters of action. The woman was Professor Knott’s secretary but had little experience with the world of metahumans. “It’s going to be okay. I think they’re in some kind of stasis. Perhaps some of the other staff members will know what to do.”

Rosa nodded eagerly. She seemed relieved Sandy was taking charge. “Yes, other staff members! That’s what we need.”

For some reason Rosa took time to close the door and it seemed to contain the energy. Sandy followed Rosa back to the office and the secretary made her way to a microphone. “Attention please. This is Mrs. Hervegas speaking. There is a potential emergency in Professor Hand’s Strategic Theory class. All staff please meet outside the classroom in five minutes.”

Sandy grabbed the mic away from her. “And whatever you do, please do not open the door until we meet you there!”

Rosa turned to Sandy. “Do you think they heard us?”

Sandy put a hand on the woman’s shoulder. “You did great. Come on, let’s get down there!”

Moments later the pair returned to the classroom. A crowd of staff gathered outside the room. They seemed very intrigued.

A diminutive, bearded man in a green costume flew toward them. “What the hell’s going on?” he demanded. “And who is this?” he asked, referring to Sandy. “Is she responsible?”

Rosa shook her head. “This is Sandy Anderson, a new student Professor Knott extended an invitation to and no, she isn’t responsible.”

The dwarf landed and looked Sandy over. “Mikron O’Jeneus,” he said, extending his right hand. “But they call me Gizmo.”

Sandy shook his tiny hand as she saw many adults do. “Sandy Anderson.”

The dwarf laughed. “Hell of a first day kid!”

Sandy nodded. “That it is, sir. Mrs. Hervegas was escorting me to class and we found them like this when we arrived.”

Gizmo turned to Rosa and craned a thumb toward Sandy. “Sir? I like this one!”

Another man, the creepy one she saw in the computer room made a bee line toward them. “Mrs. Hervegas! Now isn’t the time to conduct a tour of the school! Please escort the young lady out of here!”

Gizmo stepped between them and gestured over his shoulder to Sandy. “And this ray of sunshine is called Dr. Light, believe it or not.”

The other adults didn’t seem to like Dr. Light very much but Sandy didn’t want to read too much into the situation. “Sandy Anderson.”

Dr. Light’s eyes narrowed as he leaned in toward them. “And how do we know Ms. Anderson isn’t the cause of all this? Do we even know her powers?”

Rosa stepped forward and poked a finger in Dr. Light’s chest. “We certainly do! It’s my job to know the background of every child that comes through our doors! Her powers are incapable of such a thing!”

“It looks like Indira’s stasis beam,” said a strikingly pretty young woman. “I saw her use it once. Doesn’t it have a similar energy signature?”

Dr. Light rolled his eyes and turned on his heels toward the young woman. “Please Ms. Escobar! Leave this to the professionals!”

Gizmo lifted into the air and buzzed past Light towards the woman Light called Ms. Escobar. He peered in through the door’s lone, rectangular window. “Carmen’s right. I believe! It does look like Ms. Khandhari’s handiwork and she’s notably absent from the room!”

Ms. Escobar shot Dr. Light a nasty, smug look that seemed impossible for such a pleasant face.

Dr. Light started to open the door.

“Wait!” Sandy cried. “The energy leaps out of the room when the door is opened!”

Dr. Light turned to her. He didn’t seem pleased to be instructed by a student but stubbornly nodded an acknowledgment. “Do you know why they call me Dr. Light, girl?”

Sandy shrugged her shoulders. “You chose it for yourself?”

Light pushed her aside and opened the door open carefully. As Sandy promised the purple energy poured into the hallway and again slammed into the same locker across the hall.

Bright, white energy leaped from Dr. Light’s hands and enveloped the purple beam. As he moved his hands back and forth, sparks arced between his white light energy and the purple ray. “The frequency indeed appears to be consistent with Ms. Khandhari’s handiwork.”

“Let me try something,” said Gizmo. “Everyone stand back!”

The dwarf tossed a small smoke bomb into the path of the beam and it froze in mid-air. The billowing smoke stood ominously still. “Yep, it’s Indira alright!”

Light slammed the classroom door shut. “Then it’s time someone teach that little tart a lesson in respecting their elders!”

Next: Dr. Light vs. Indira?


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