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Annual #1
 
an FDC original series...

Higher Learning
#2
"Revenge Squad"
By David Marshall


Professor Hugo Knott spread the front page of the morning paper across his desk. "Explanation?"

Dr. Norton lowered his eyes, avoiding the Professor's gaze and squirmed in his chair. The night before, he escorted the students of Windsor Academy on their first live mission, a basic mop-up operation of hired cronies and goons loading cocaine onto a freighter bound for Gotham City in America. Everything went fine until a new arrival, Ezekiel Goldman, hopped into the fray and was shot dead by an anti-meta cannon, casting the school for aspiring, young super villains into an unwanted spotlight.

"You were assigned to supervise the children, Barrabas! Instead, one is reported dead, the school is under scrutiny from the Colombian government, and the newspapers are calling the students a gang of teenage superheroes! Superheroes! Do you have any idea how such negative publicity will affect fund-raising?"

Dr. Norton found some backbone and snapped to attention. "One minute, Hugo! I argued against the Goldman boy going on the mission."

"That's the trouble with our ilk, Barrabas. We always blame others, such a nasty character flaw. It's one reason why we lose and they always win."

"You bear no responsibility then?"

"Of course I do! This whole miserable affair is my cross to bear."

"The boy's not dead," answered Norton.

The Professor nodded and sighed. "A thorough understanding of his powers are in order. I want that boy poked and prodded until we know every minute detail about him - to the number of hairs on his head. Understood?"

"Yes, Professor."

"You're free to go."

Dr. Norton didn't move.

"Barrabas?"

Dr. Norton sighed. "Are you sure we're doing the right thing, Hugo?"

"The right thing? An unusual dilemma for men like us to contemplate."

"I've seen hundreds maimed or killed in this business, but that boy¼"

Professor Knott leaned forward in his chair. "Ours is a sad lot, old friend. How does one sleep at night when his successes are measured in the petty hatreds passed on to children? Shall we pat ourselves on the back for breeding another generation of malice and contempt? We are not good men, Barrabas."

"But your dream¼"

"Yes, my dream, my ego. Another of those nasty character flaws."

Dr. Norton pushed his chair back and stood. He turned to leave but paused at the large, carved oak doors separating the Professor's office from his secretary's. "I'm going to the kitchen. Care for some tea?"

The Professor shook his head. "I have work to do."

Dr. Norton left the room.

Some work! To take children and turn them into¼

Professor Knott dismissed the thought, but it nagged on his mind as he waded through a balance sheet. Most criminals were losers. For every Lex Luthor or Joker, there were a thousand pathetic fools parading around in gaudy costumes with one-dimensional gimmicks and little else. The highlight of their pathetic careers was serving as sparring partners to the spandex set. They were stiffs- glass jaws to warm up the prizefighters for their money purses. The Professor often joked the superheroes grew them like vegetables just to stay in practice.

His students would not turn out like them! Despite maintaining the necessary professional distance, he possessed a curious, unplanned fondness for them. They were more than an army of young delinquents or the next generation of criminals. They were- well, normal teenagers, their spirit infectious, pumping precious lifeblood through the school's hardened arteries. Pimples and puppy love were every bit as important to them as world domination or defeating the Justice League, maybe even more so.

Was it possible to turn them into tomorrow's criminal elite and not harden their souls? The Professor damned his choices and closed his ledger.


The Cafeteria

Ezekiel Goldman thanked the lunch lady, grabbed his plastic tray, and looked for somewhere to sit. Not that there were many options. Windsor Academy wasn't designed to accommodate a large student body. The cafeteria was small compared to the one in P.S. 136 in Brooklyn.

Indira Khandhari leaned back in her seat and waved for Zeke to join her. She sat with Portia Cheney, the only other girl at the school.

Indira was deeply affected by Zeke's "death" the night before. He wished he could have told her about his powers beforehand, but there wasn't time. How could she have known he absorbed energy and stored it for later use? Unfortunately he wasn't invulnerable, so absorbing the impact of a blow was as painful to him as anyone else. Even his toenails hurt after being shot with the meta cannon. On the bright side, he could draw from its wellspring of kinetic energy for quite some time.

Zeke put his tray beside Indira's and smiled at the girls. His leg brushed Indira's as he sat down, sending a shiver up his spine. He felt his face flush. "Sorry about last night. I didn't mean to scare you."

"It is ok, Ezekiel. I'm just glad you're fine now. I didn't know how your powers worked," Indira answered.

"Me either sometimes," he laughed.

"I know that feeling all too well," Portia added. She opened her milk carton and grinned mischievously. "Sorry I've been an ass."

Zeke smiled. "I'm the new kid. I expected it."

"How long do you have to wait before your injuries heal?" Indira asked.

"Once my body processes the energy of an impact, I'm ready to go. I'm more embarrassed than anything else. I never meant to compromise the school," Zeke answered.

Portia sipped her milk through a straw then wiped her mouth with a napkin. "Don't worry. Professor K. will think of something."

"Hey Goldman!"

The thick southern drawl belonged to Bo Freebird, the bane of Zeke's existence since arriving at the exclusive school the day before. He sat a table away with Tristan Stoner.

"Lame-ass stunt, bozo!"

"Leave him alone, Bo!" Portia warned.

"Or what? You'll huff and puff and blow my house down?"

Portia rolled her eyes. "Jerk."

"Come on, Bo. Just be cool," begged Stoner. He tugged at his friend's arm.

Bo slapped Stoner's hand aside. "What do you know about cool? You listen to that eighties crap!"

"Only M.A.C.E! They're not just any eighties band," Tristan argued.

"Is there a problem here?"

Professor William Hand cleared his throat. He taught Strategic Criminal Theory. Once the villain known as the Black Hand, the Professor recognized a greater use for his genius. He authored an intensive tome demonstrating effective methodology pitting statistical probability and cause-and-effect against metahuman tendencies and abilities. While few in the underworld establishment would set their egos aside to read such a fascinating work, the Professor hoped a younger, impressionable generation would be more receptive to Hand's theories.

"No, sir," Indira answered.

"Good. I expect to see everyone in class today at 1:05 sharp." He glared at Portia and moved along on his appointed rounds.

Indira whirled around in her seat and shot a cold look at Bo, but said no more.


The Science Lab

"By damn boy! I think you've got it!" sneered Mikron O'Jeneus, the dwarvish mentor of Chaucer St. Claire. He examined the White Sound Environment device the boy engineered the day before and used on the goons at the pier. Better known as Gizmo of the deadly group the Fearsome Five, he still worked as an operative with them whenever they'd ocassionally reunite. Like the other members of the Fearsome Five, O'Jeneus wallowed in malevolence. But even evil men desire a legacy. When he heard about the St. Claire boy, he couldn't pass up the opportunity to mold him.

"It didn't work as I envisioned but it was effective," Chaucer answered while tinkering with a new project.

O'Jeneus laughed heartily. "Let me tell you a secret I've never shared with anybody, except a lady of the evening or two,during more private moments. All that matters is that it works, kid. Do you think every gadget I cook up is just what Psimon, or Dr. Light, or whatever clown leading the Fearsome Five this week, orders? If I blow something up, they're happy and I just smile like it worked as planned."

"Really?"

O'Jeneus beamed. "Yep."

"Unacceptable fraud."

"Watch yer lip, kid." O'Jeneus' smile gave way to a menacing frown.

"No disrespect intended, sir, but the methodology seems crude," Chaucer replied. He watched his task with intense interest.

"You ain't seen crude until you've worked with Mammoth," O'Jeneus laughed. "What you working on now?"

"Nanite bomb," Chaucer answered. "Dismantling nanite technology at the sub-atomic level."

"Interesting. Any luck?"

Chaucer shook his head.

"Nanites can be nasty little buggers," said O'Jeneus. "I could share a few tips with ya though. I'm like Tarentino with 'em."

For the first time since the boy arrived weeks earlier, O'Jeneus saw Chaucer St. Claire smile. He even looked up from his project. "I'd like that, sir."

O'Jeneus mussed the boy's hair. "You're alright, kid, but if you call me a fraud again, I'll rearrange you at the sub-atomic level."


Tristan Stoner's room

Bo Freebird stared at the posters on the walls of Tristan's room. What was his fascination with the rock band M.A.C.E? He'd heard of them before but had never heard their music. Their last hit was what - 1988? But if that was Stoner's thing then more power to him. "So why did you take his side?"

"What?"

"At lunch today you defended that jerk, Zeke," said Bo.

Tristan shook his head. "I wasn't defending him. It's just not cool to drag everybody else into whatever's going on between you two."

"I'm gonna mess him up," said Bo.

"Why do you hate him so much?"

Bo sat down on Tristan's small twin bed. "You're joking, right?"

Tristan retrieved a compact disc case from the nightstand beside his bed and flipped through it. He slipped one out of its protective sleeve and placed it in his compact disc player. The power riffs of "Rock Me Nagasaki" filled the room. Tristan raised his voice to speak over it. "No, I'm not. What has he done?"

"It's not what he's done. It's his pretty-boy city attitude," Bo answered. He couldn't tell Tristan the truth and hoped his friend respected his privacy enough to not pry with his empathy.

"I'm not going to use my power on you," said Tristan.

Bo was stunned. "Dude, I didn't know you could read minds too."

Tristan laughed. "I can't. But I can read faces and you looked scared to death that I was going to do it."

"What is this we're listening to?" Bo asked, pointing to the cd player.

"It's M.A.C.E, dude. Like it?" Tristan answered.

"Not what I was expecting. But yeah. I do."

"Good. Now shut up and listen."


Indira Khandhari's room

Indira Khandhari opened her diary to a blank page. The preceeding page was filled with the account of Zeke's death and her feelings about it. The page was decorated with small hearts filled with both their initials. She wanted to try them out to see how they looked together.

Today, Indira had something else to talk about.

Dear Diary,

The day was rough, but I finally made it through. Bo started his usual crap with Zeke. Sometimes I wish Zeke would just pound that loudmouth, but I shouldn't think that way. He's a teammate whether I like him or not. I just don't understand why he's such a big jerk. But anyway, I don't want to talk about Bo or even Zeke (Ok,maybe Zeke).

I finally have it! I haven't told anybody else yet, because I wanted to see how it looked in print and wanted to get used to it before telling anyone else.

Tempo!

Do you like it? I think I do. Professor Hand says a villain's name (or moniker as he calls it. He's so funny sometimes) is very important. It not only reflects her powers but also defines who she is. I think Tempo works well for me. It doesn't sound too lame does it? I don't want Bo to make fun of me so I'll probably wait until he announces his codename before I tell anybody about mine.

Well I've gotta run. I'm supposed to meet Portia for dinner.

Indira

Indira closed her diary and stuffed it between her mattress and box springs.


Professor Hugo Knott's Quarters, Later The Same Night

The Colombian countryside was peaceful. A croaking bullfrog and a lonesome owl filled the pleasant night air with their mating calls. The Professor settled into his bed with a worn copy of Tolstoy's Crime and Punishment. His nightly vigil was interrupted by Dr. Norton's voice on the private intercom in his room. "Hugo, you'd better get down here. Fast!"

Cursing under his breath, the Professor wrapped his robe around him and found his wheelchair. He pressed a button at the base of a ceramic bust on the nightstand beside his table. The western wall of his room opened to reveal an elevator shaft. He rolled his wheelchair to the elevator and pressed the button for the first floor.

The elevator started its descent with an unnerving jerk. Were Beauregard and Ezekiel were fighting again? What situation could be so desperate that Barrabas would interrupt his private time?

Once the elevator doors swooshed open again, the Professor naviagated the hallways and found Dr. Norton surrounded by several machine gun-wielding men in dark masks.

"What's going on here?" the Professor asked.

<"Professor Hugo Knott?"> one of the men asked.

<"Yes?"> the Professor replied.

Gunfire erupted from the man's gun and pockmocked the marble floor in front of the Professor's wheelchair.

The Professor instinctively jerked back, but was careful to stay in his wheelchair. Best to not to let the gunmen know he wasn't lame. <"Why are you attacking my school? We have done nothing.">

The gunman lowered his weapon. <"Oh, but you have, senor! It was you who first attacked us with your band of freaks. You play a dangerous game when you interfere in the business of el Diablo Ramon.">

The Professor wasn't sure if the name was supposed to strike fear into his heart or not, but it didn't matter. Fear was the last thing on his mind. The safety of his students and staff were of utmost importance. He glanced at Dr. Norton. Two men stood directly behind him, their guns pressed into his back. In place of fear, he wore a look of deep concentration. Good. If he was working on a plan then that left the Professor free to care for the students.

<"What will you do with us?"> the Professor asked.

The gunman's wicked smile was made even more prominent by his yellow teeth. <"We intend to kill you and your pet heroes."> He gestured to one of the men holding a gun to Dr. Norton and he lowered his weapon and moved to the entrance. Once the door was open, a small army of gunmen filled the foyer.

The group's leader was direct with his men. <"Find those brats!">

The Professor tried to move to the reception desk to hit the alarm so his students would at least be ready for the intruders. They deserved that much of a chance. However, he was cut off by the group's leader. <"What do you think you're doing?">

The Professor kicked the man in the groin. <"Giving these kids a fighting chance!">

The gunman dropped his weapon and grabbed his groin, allowing the Professor the opportunity to smash a lamp over his head. The gun went off and fired into the wall over the Professor's shoulder. He lunged from his wheelchair and hit the alarm, which blared to life.

The gunmen holding Dr. Norton screamed and fell to the floor.

"Barrabas?"

A delighted grin froze on Dr. Norton's blue lips. "They will have nightmares for weeks."

The Professor nodded. His friend rarely displayed his powers. In fact, the children weren't even aware of his abilities. "Let's get to the children."

An explosion rocked the school, raining down brick and mortar on the Professor and Dr. Norton. The Professor wished it wasn't Friday night. More of the staff would be on duty to help.

The Professor left his wheelchair and ran through the winding halls with his colleague. They raced to the grand staircase and ascended its imposing steps with determination. They stopped at the top of the stairs and Dr. Norton looked to him for further instruction. Did they inspect the girl's dorms first or the boy's? "I'll take the east wing and you the west. Get the children outside to the softball field!"

Dr. Norton nodded and strode off into the fray.

The Professor hoped he would find the girls in control of the situation, but with each bullet hole and bloodstain he passed, the odds quickly faded. Rubble blocked his way at the science lab, but the Professor climbed over and moved on.

The first room he came to belonged to Portia. The door had been kicked open, but the room was empty. Portia's belongings were strewn about the room. The Professor was unsure whether Portia was a messy housekeeper or if the mess testified of struggle. He expected her bed to be a mess since she would have been awaken so suddenly, so it provided no clue. The question was quickly settled when his eyes came to rest on a shelf by the window. There, a small collection of collectible holiday dolls spoke of the order and cleanliness usually found in Portia's room.

A second explosion rocked the school knocking the Professor to the ground. What were those madmen doing?

Venturing back into the hallway, the Professor pressed on to the next room. The door was completely off its hinges but the room was empty of personal belongings. Only a meticulously well-made bed and uncluttered student desk filled the small room. Perhaps the room was the eye of the hurricane the school found itself in. Calm and serene, it bore witness to the usual stillness of the nights in the Buenaventura countryside.

The Professor found two more empty rooms before reaching Indira's. Unlike Portia's room, it still maintained a semblence of a kempt appearance. Perhaps one of Ms. Cheney's transformations was responsible for the state of her room?

<"That's far enough, senor! Raise your hands where they can be seen.>"

The Professor raised his hands and turned around. A group of men held Portia and Indira. Neither girl was harmed, but Portia was unconscious. He wondered whether they tranquilized her, or if the explosion was responsible. <"I'll comply. Just don't harm those children.">

The man in charge motioned for another man to bind the Professor. <"Not so pleasant when the element of surprise is on the other side, no?">

The Professor didn't say anything. He fell into line with his students and the armed men escorted them from the room. They wound through the school's hallways until they reached the grand staircase again.

"Professor, are they going to kill us?" asked Indira.

"That is their intention, but I'm not going to allow that to happen," the Professor answered calmly. "Can you use your power?"

Indira nodded.

<"Stop talking!"> demanded the man in charge.

When the group arrived at the bottom of the grand staircase, another group of armed thugs descended with Chaucer St. Claire,Tristan Stoner, and Barrabas Norton. They joined the Professor's group at the bottom of the stairs and were ushered outside. The Professor wondered about the whereabouts of his other two students, Beauregard Freebird and Ezekiel Goldman, but didn't want to ask in case the intruders had overlooked them.

<"Outside! All of you!" yelled the man in charge of the operation.

"Professor? What are they saying?" Tristan asked.

"They want us to follow them outside. Do as they say. For now," the Professor answered. "Just remember Professor Hand's first rule in this case."

He hoped the other students took his hint and wouldn't ask about their missing teammates.

Once outside, the men lined up the Windsor Academy students and staff execution-style on the softball field.

"I'm scared," whispered Indira.

"It's ok to be scared," Dr. Norton answered. "Use that fear as a weapon. Allow your heightened senses to soak up every detail around you in looking for an advantage. "

<"Before we begin, I think we should put an end to this school before it interferes with El Diablo Ramon again.">

<"What are you trying to say?"> the Professor asked.

The man in charge retrieved a small device from his camoflage jacket. <"Your dreams are going up in smoke, old man."> He pushed a button on the face of the device.

At first, all was silent, but then like an erupting volcano, the shool exploded, raining debris down on all. When the smoke cleared, the school was no more.


Next Issue: Can the students and their mentors escape El Diablo Ramon's firing squad? And just what happened to Bo and Zeke? Tune in next issue for "Escape of the Gladiators" or "Toro! Toro!" Hmm.. sounds too much like a Bullwinkle teaser. Let's try this. Tune in next issue. Same Bat time. Same... Wait, that's not right either. Once more for the sake of originality. Now this is the tale of our castaways. They're here for a long, long time....

Aw nuts! Just read the next issue! Ok?

Please?

Pretty Please?

With sugar on top?

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