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Annual #1
an FDC original series...

Higher Learning
By David Marshall

Bo Freebird woke up and looked around. He was in the training gym on the basement level of the school grounds. The gym was a mess. A large hole in what was left of the ceiling told him exactly how he got there. The last thing he remembered was an explosion. He had no idea if the others were alive or dead.

Bo hoped everyone was ok, even Goldman. He wanted to yell to see if anyone answered, but decided against it. Professor Hand warned against drawing attention to yourself after an attack. "Let your enemy think you're down for the count and regroup." Besides, the explosion could just as easily have been a blown gas main, but Bo wasn't taking any chances. He would assume the worst until he saw evidence that suggested otherwise.

He was sore, but able to stand. He thanked whatever god would hear him that he was in his bed when the explosion occurred. Somehow he managed to hold onto his mattress and landed on it when he fell into the basement. But the fall was more like a tumble down a rocky hillside than a straight drop because of the collapsing floors gathering debris as they gave way. Bo had a few bumps and bruises but seemed no worse for the wear. At least the mattress kept some of the other debris from injuring him badly.

Who would do such a thing to their school? Who could do such a thing to the school? A superhero? That didn't make sense. The school hadn't made enemies among the spandex set yet. Besides, most of them were careful to use only the amount of force required to overcome the resistance they faced. Wow! What was that from? Chapter Six? Professor Hand was good. Bo never remembered his lessons in regular school very well.

Bo heard a low moan and searched the rubble frantically. Someone was trapped in a pile of plaster, wood, and broken furniture. He slowly sifted through the rubble. He was tempted to use his power and let the earth move the debris, but decided against it. If someone needed medical attention they shouldn't be moved and rearranging the earth beneath them could injure them more. And if an attacker was loose in their school, using his powers would only draw attention.

After what seemed like hours, but in truth was only minutes, he discovered a hand protruding from a pile of debris.

"I've got you. Don't worry," he said to whoever was trapped underneath.

Bo struggled to remove a heavy girder from the top of the pile. After it was moved, everything else was fairly light and easy to toss aside. At the bottom of the pile lay Zeke Goldman.

"Damn, Goldman. You look rough."

Zeke said nothing, answering with the same hoarse moan that led Zeke to find him in the first place.

"Goldman! Can you hear me?"

A groggy Zeke nodded his head, or at least Bo thought so.

"Was that a yes?" Bo asked.

"Yes, I can hear you," Zeke coughed. "What happened?"

"I don't know. There was an explosion. I don't know if we were attacked or if a gas main blew or something. You gonna be ok?"

Zeke nodded. "I think so. My body absorbed most of the impact. It'll take me a few to recover."

Bo offered his nemesis a hand. "No time to lay there, loser. If a gas main blew, we need to make tracks before it blows again. Can you walk?"

Zeke took Bo's hand and pulled himself up. "Yeah, but I..."

"Good. Let's go."

The boys groped around in the dark gymnasium and found the stairs. They ascended slowly and stuck to the walls to make it harder for them to be seen in case the school was under attack. They made their way to the main floor and crept into what was left of the hallway. It too was dark and empty.

Winding their way though the broken school, they reached the main foyer. They hoped to find the Professor there. Instead, the reception area was empty and a little spooky with only pale moonlight shining through the windows. There were also signs of a struggle.

The boys split in opposite directions and searched the room. Bo found bullet holes in the wall. "Goldman."

Zeke rushed to Bo's side and ran a finger over the pockmarked wall. "I found something, too."

"What?" Bo asked.

"Check it out," said Zeke. He held up a black beret.

"So what? It could be anybody's, you bung-hole."

"Or it could belong to whoever attacked us," Zeke answered.

Bo shook his head. "No way! Somebody broke in here wearing that thing and the Professor would have taken him out."

"You don't know that," Zeke argued. "You're assuming there was a single attacker. What if there were more? We don't know what we're up against here, so we need to keep open minds. It could be anything from a group of crazies to a gas leak."

"You're the only gas leak around here," Bo replied.

"Not now, Freeturd."

"What did you call me?" Bo asked. Under attack or not, he wasn't going to let Goldman talk to him that way.

"You heard me."

"I've had it with you," Bo answered.

Zeke slung the beret to the floor and motioned for Bo to bring it. "I've had it with you, too. Nobody around to break us up now, big man."

Bo couldn't ask for a better invitation if it were handwritten. He swung at Goldman's jaw, but whiffed.

Zeke was quicker than Bo gave him credit for.

After ducking under the punch, Zeke landed a solid right hand to Bo's gut, forcing the air from his lungs.

Fighting to catch his breath, Bo backed off, but Goldman kept coming. "What's wrong, Freebird? Maybe you need to hit the gym instead of running your..."

Bo didn't let him finish. He football-tackled his opponent to the ground. No hot-shot city boy was going to land a lucky punch on him and stand around bragging about it.

The boys hit the ground hard and rolled around. Bo was thankful that when they rolled into a wall, he was on top. It could have easily gone the other way. He quickly straddled Zeke and delivered a hard right hand that caught him in the cheek bone. He raised his fist to strike another blow, but before he could land it, Zeke bit him on the inside of the thigh.

Bo yelped in pain and rolled away. "Bloody hell! Are you gay, too?"

The boys quickly stood to their feet and faced one another.

Zeke answered with his fists. A series of left and rights knocked Bo to the floor. He spit a small glob of blood from his busted lip and steeled himself. There was no way he was going to let a loser like Goldman beat him. Remember your hand-to-hand techniques, he whispered to himself as he stood.

Zeke rushed him which was just what Bo was hoping for. As soon as Zeke was on him, he placed his foot in the other boy's gut, grabbed him by the wrists, and flipped him over his head. Bo couldn't believe it! It really worked!

Zeke crashed into a coffee table, breaking it upon impact.

"Had enough?" Bo asked.

"I haven't even begun," Zeke answered.

It wasn't the answer Bo was hoping for. Sure, he'd fight Zeke all night if that's what it took, but the other boy wasn't quite the pushover Bo took him for.

The two boys stood and faced off again. They circled one another, looking for even the smallest opening and then like two wild rams, charged again. Zeke's chin caught Bo between the eyes, stunning them both.

Bo tried to shake out the cobwebs, but before he could open his eyes, Zeke locked him in a bear hug. The breath rushed from Bo's lungs. No matter how hard he struggled to breathe, Zeke squeezed harder making it impossible. Bo felt like corn beneath a millstone. Desperate for air, he opened his arms wide and slammed his open hands over Zeke's ears.

Zeke cried out in pain and released his grip.

As soon as his feet were on solid ground again, Bo kneed Zeke in the groin. Any gloating was short-lived. Like any man hit in the groin, Zeke doubled over. Unfortunately the boys were so close together, his head smashed into Bo's nose. Blood spewed like magma from an erupting volcano.

Again the boys grappled with one another. Neither gained much leverage as they flipped around the reception area. One would land a punch and then the other, but their close proximity hindered their effectiveness. Both were covered in blood from Bo's nose.

After a few minutes of wrestling, Zeke stopped fighting. "Hey! Did you hear that?"

"Like I'm gonna fall for that," Bo replied. He raised his fist. He was on top again and wasn't going to give up his advantage.

Zeke winced as a hard right hand split his lip. "No, dude. For real! I think I just heard a car or something."

"If this is a trick..."

"Just listen, moron!"

Bo listened. "I don't hear anything."

Zeke huffed. "Are you deaf or just stupid?"

Bo grabbed Zeke'a collar and answered with another right hand that opened a small cut underneath Zeke's left eye. "How stupid am I now?"

"Damn idiot! Listen! If I want you off me that badly, all I have to do is release my power and you'll go flying. Now, shut up and listen."

Bo released his grip on Zeke's collar and listened. Really listened. "Hey! I do hear something!"

Both boys stood. Their fight could wait. Beating Goldman's ass felt good, but it would have to wait. He was right. Someone was out outside.

The boys snuck to a window and looked out toward the softball field.

"Holy crap!" said Zeke. "They've got everybody! Looks like they're going to shoot them."

An old Army-style troop transport truck rolled up on the softball field.

"That's probably the vehicle we heard," Zeke whispered.

"You're good, Einstein," Bo answered.

"Two words, Freebird. Shut. Up."

"We gotta do something," said Bo.

"We will," Zeke answered. "Can we work together and you not try to kill me?"

"The Professor's been good to me," Bo answered. "I'd work with the Teen Titans if that's what it took to save him."

"I've got a plan," Zeke whispered. "You go out the front while I take the emergency entrance in the back. We trap them between us and then when I say..."

"Bad idea!"

Zeke threw his arms in the air. "I suppose you have a better plan?"

"We don't know the emergency entrance is even in working order, or if we can get to it," Bo answered. "We can't leave each other on an island out there."

Zeke huffed and shrugged his shoulders. "I'll hate myself for saying this later, but you're right."

Of course he was right! That was what pissed Bo off about Goldman. Just like a damn Yankee to assume he was smarter! Of course, they think all southerners are stupid. They forget that behind the slow, laid-back drawl, there is still a human brain. Besides, Bo was proud of his southern twang.

"What do you ..."

"New plan!" Bo shouted.

"Quiet! They'll hear you!" warned Zeke.

"If they didn't hear our fight, I think we'll be ok. Look! They're loading everybody into the truck. Let's move!" said Bo.

"Wait! We can't just..."

Bo burst out the window. However dramatic the entrance, he made a note not to do it again. He'd probably pick glass out of his body for two weeks. "Hey gringos! Those are my friends you have there!"

The gunmen opened fire. Bo willed the ground to rise up and form an earthen shield. The bullets sank harmlessly into the strata.

Even over the bedlam of gunfire and rumbling earth, he could hear the Professor's voice. "There's a difference between nobility and stupidity, boys! Save yourselves!"

Bo wasn't going to run anywhere. The Professor had taken him in and given him a real home. He wasn't going to let a gang of thugs take him or his friends. Knowing the gunmen would rush around his barricade any second, Bo decided a little surprise was in order. Like a child molding clay, he opened a deep chasm on either side of the barricade. As he planned, the gunmen rushed around from both sides and disappeared into the twin pits.

He heard the truck moving. "No!"

He sealed the chasms and peeked around his barricade. A second, identical truck had joined the first, but Bo wasn't sure which one held his friends captive. The trucks sped off in opposite directions.

Bo chose a truck and concentrated on the ground before it. What should he do? If he caused the truck to wreck, he may hurt his friends if they were inside. But if the invaders were inside, he could wipe them out. It reminded him of his first day at Windsor Academy. The Professor spoke about choices and how living with the wrong choice can make one miserable. What was that lame old story he quoted? The Lady and the Tiger. That was it, by some old guy named Stockton! Bo remembered it well because he commented on John Stockton, the basketball player, and how he had to make split-second decisions. Everybody else laughed at him, but not Professor Knott. The Professor commended his abstract reasoning.

Now, Bo had a split-second decision of his own to make. Two choices.

With all his strength, he reached into the earth and raised a steep mountain beneath the truck. Undaunted, the truck continued. The world's militaries used them for a reason. They would go anywhere. Bo wasn't to be outdone. He raised the mountain's incline a few degrees more. The truck's driver kicked the truck into a lower gear and kept climbing.

Again, Bo raised the steepness of the incline to a near vertical climb. At last the truck could creep no higher and came to a stop.


Bo turned his attention away from his artificial mountain to see what Zeke was doing. He'd forgotten about his classmate. He'd stopped the other truck in his own unique way. It was overturned in a huge crater, the result of one of his controlled explosions. The front end was burning. Was Zeke nuts? If their friends were aboard they could have been killed!

The invading forces scampered from the back of the burning truck. One man had fallen from the truck when Zeke unleashed his explosive energy. His leg was pinned beneath the truck. Some of his buddies were trying to dig him out. Debris from the overturned truck littered the landscape; weapons, a bandanna, hats, an unfolded plastic tarp, tools, a large steel box, and even whiskey bottles.

"You idiot! What the hell are you doing?" Bo shouted.

"Taking out the bad guys!" Zeke yelled.

"We're the bad guys, remember?" Bo yelled back.

"Oh yeah," said Zeke. He smiled and shrugged his shoulders.

The men who rolled out the back of the overturned truck hurried to recover their belongings. Bo was actually relieved to see so many of them. That meant there wasn't room on the overturned truck for his friends.

"Bo!" Zeke cried and pointed to the top of Bo's man-made mountain. The truck slid backwards down the slope. The driver and a passenger abandoned the runaway vehicle.

At that same moment, some of the attackers had found their weapons and opened fire again.

"Zeke?" Bo shouted.

"You save the truck! I'll take care of these goons! Their popcorn-poppers can't do much to me!"

Bo knew Zeke wasn't invulnerable and wondered what he meant by that. But he'd have to trust him. Again, he raised an earthen barricade between him and the gunmen and concentrated on leveling his mountain. It had to be done slowly or it would create weak points and crumple away altogether and bury the truck. It sure was easier raising mountains than leveling them with precision.

Sweat poured from Bo's brow as he felt the weight of the world on his shoulders. Literally.

The mountain slope decreased gradually but the truck didn't slow. Down it plunged, teetering on the edge of control. Bo just hoped it wouldn't flip end over end. The slope leveled off a little more. Was it his imagination or was the truck slowing?

He smiled. Yes! It was working! His friends would be...

The smile disappeared as quickly as it formed. Bo watched in horror as the truck turned sideways and started to roll.

"No!" he cried, but it was too late.

Before it tipped over and slammed into the ground the runaway truck stopped in midair and hovered there. That was impossible! Or was it still moving?

Yes, it was! Very, very slowly. It had to be Indira's doing. She had put the truck in one of her stasis fields, or "on ice" as Bo called it.

Then the truck simply disappeared. Vanished without a trace.

"What the.... Hey, Goldman! Did you see that?"

"Yeah, I did," Zeke answered from the other side of the barricade. "I don't believe it though."

"Me neither," Bo whispered to himself.

In an instant, the truck reappeared on level ground, still hovering in the air. It came to a gentle rest on its side. Two frightened-looking soldiers filed out of the truck first, their hands in the air. They were followed by Indira and Chaucer. Dr. Norton was the next to step into the moonlight.

"Where's Professor K?" Bo shouted. "And Tristan?"

"I'm right here," the Professor answered. "Someone give me a hand with Tristan. He was knocked unconscious when the truck overturned."

Bo allowed the barricade to recede into the ground. It was important to get it exactly right. Sudden changes in the geological landscape could have disastrous effects on the environment.

Zeke mopped up what was left of the other soldiers. Many of them fled, firing blindly as they retreated into the night. What few remained were easy to round up. Most surrendered without a fight. One fired at Zeke and Bo was surprised to learn Zeke could use his power defensively too. By releasing stored up energy, he set off a shock wave that felled his attacker's bullets. In minutes, things were wrapped up.

A very happy reunion took place.

"I don't understand. How did the truck...?" Zeke asked.

"Wormhole," Chaucer answered.

"How's Tristan?" Bo asked.

"He's fine," the Professor answered. "A bump on the head. Nothing more. And Portia?"

"Portia?" Zeke answered. "We thought she was with you."

Dr. Norton shook his head. "No. They put her in the other truck. She was raging out of control so they tranquilized her."

"The other truck?" Bo asked.

"Oh no," Zeke added.

The two boys broke off in a run toward the other truck. It burst into a towering inferno.

"Oh my god! No!" they screamed. "Professor K!"

The Professor lowered his head and said nothing.

"Portia! I'm coming! I'll get you out!" Zeke yelled over the roaring flames. He approached the truck but the incredible heat and smoke forced him back.

Everyone watched the vehicle succumb to the flames. There was nothing anyone could do.

"If I had known, I could have put the truck in stasis and we could have gotten her out," said Indira. Tears ran down her cheeks.

"You couldn't have known," said the Professor. He placed a hand on her shoulder.

Zeke sat at the rim of the crater and stared listlessly into the flames.

Bo started toward him, but the Professor grabbed him by the arm. "Please, Bo. Don't antagonize him."

Bo shot the Professor a nasty look and jerked his arm away. He shuffled slowly to Zeke's side. He wanted to say something but wasn't sure what. "It... wasn't your fault, dude. You couldn't have known."

"I..." Bo stammered. "I killed her."

"And I nearly killed everybody else. We made our decisions. Have you read the Lady and the Tiger?"

"I know you mean well, Freebird, but I need to be..."

Suddenly the large, metal box that was thrown from the back of the truck rocked violently. Low, guttural growls emanated from inside.

"My god! She's alive!" shouted the Professor.

"Portia!" Indira cried.

Dr. Norton grabbed her by the shoulder. "Stay back, Ms. Kandhari. She's in her feral form and not happy about being shoved into a steel box."

Bo was glad Portia was ok, but wasn't sure what to say to Zeke. "Look, I... uh..."

"Yeah, me too," Zeke answered.

Their classmates surrounded the two boys.

"Your assistance was greatly appreciated," said Chaucer.

"Excellent work, boys," said Dr. Norton. "I think this earns you some extra credit."

"It's good that you and Ezekiel are getting along," said Indira. "Finally."

Bo shook his head. "Me and Goldman? We did what we had to."

"Come on, Bo. I saw you two just now," Indira shot back with a giddy smile.

Bo made eye contact with Zeke. "Goldman!"


"If Portia died, it would have been your ass!"

"Yeah? Well, congratulations, moron! You nearly killed the whole school!"

Indira buried her face in her hands and groaned before turning to Dr. Norton. "Incorrigible! Is that the word, Dr. Norton?"

Dr. Norton nodded in disgust. "Indeed it is, Ms. Khandhari. Indeed it is."

The Professor grabbed each boy by an arm. "I can't believe you two! Does this petty argument of yours know no bounds? Detention for you both when the school is rebuilt!"

Making sure no one else could see him, Bo smiled and nodded to Zeke, who returned the gesture. It was good that things were back to normal.


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