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Annual #1
an FDC original series...

Higher Learning
"Swelling Ranks"
By David Marshall

Professor Hugo Knott sat in his office with one of the world’s foremost leaders in science. A brilliant man, he’d just made a request of Windsor Academy’s dean to accept his daughter into its student body.

“Of course, we’ll accept her, sir. But may I ask why you wouldn’t wish to oversee her studies yourself? After all, you’re one of the most brilliant men in the world,” said Professor Hugo Knott.

“Correction, Professor. I am the most brilliant man in the world! But I have neither the time, resources, nor desire, to tend to my daughter’s needs. She is a teenaged girl and they can be quite detrimental to an old man’s sanity. I trust you are familiar with the egret?” asked the renowned scientist and inventor,Dr. Thaddeus Bodogg Sivana.

“Certainly,” replied Professor Knott. “I don’t understand what that has to do with...”

“They eat their young, infanticide,” Sivana replied.

The Professor attempted to stir the conversation back on track.“You do understand that our sponsorship fees are very expensive and that you will be financially responsible for all extracurricular activities as well? Are you prepared to deal with those obligations?”

“Of course I am! What’s a little money to cease that girl’s infernal rattling? There is no price too high to pay to get her out of my hair!”

Professor Knott tried not to stare at Sivana’s bald pate and note the irony of his comment. “And what of your son?”

“My son will stay with me.There is hope for him yet.”

The Professor pressed the intercom button on his desk. It was good to be back in his regular office. Perhaps the students could follow suit in a week or so.“Rosa, would you send in Ms. Sivana?”

“Yes, Professor,” Rosa replied with her thick Latin-American accent.

The sturdy oak doors of the Professor’s office creaked open slowly. Georgia Sivana entered the room like a mouse trying to stay hidden from a hungry cat.She said nothing and kept her eyes cast to the ground.

Dr. Sivana gestured for his daughter to sit in the wooden-backed chair beside him. “I believe Professor Knott has something to say to you.”

“Georgia Sivana, Welcome to the Windsor Academy for Higher Learning!” said the Professor. He hoped his enthusiasm might rub off on the girl.

“Thank you,” she replied without looking up. Her voice was little more than a hoarse whisper.

“Smile, girl! You should be honored they even want you,” Sivana scolded.

We are honored to have you,” said Professor Knott. He didn’t wish to correct Sivana in front of his daughter.Large amounts of donor dollars were at stake, but still he didn’t like how the scientist spoke to her.

Georgia forced a weak, half-hearted smile and looked up. “Thank you, sir.”

“That’s a good girl,” Sivana said as he settled into his chair.

Professor Knott hoped Georgia would fit in with the other students. She was hardly a looker, in fact some would call her pitifully ugly.She was sixteen, but would easily pass for three years younger; she had no breasts, no widening of the hips due to puberty, and rail thin- her clothes looked as if they were ready to slide off her wiry frame.Her style, or lack of it, was surprising considering she was a Fawcett City girl.It was hardly Metropolis or Paris, but not exactly denied the influence of Madison Avenue. A wrinkly, white Star Wars t-shirt hung to her knees. Sitting with her right leg crossed over her left, the Professor could see she wore neon green polyester shorts, baggy of course.Dark brown stubble grew from her legs that looked too thick for a razor to cut through. Her sandals showed off bright red toenail polish, but it was mostly peeled and faded.She obviously cut her own hair using a bowl as a guide. Thick, black glasses framed her mousy face, making it appear too small and her eyes appear to bulge from the rims themselves. A raging case of acne marked her face and judging from her many scars, it was a common occurrence and not a simple flare-up. Unfortunately, Georgia inherited her father’s teeth as well.Not only were they crooked, but she had a pronounced over-bite that would require braces.

The Professor pitied her.

“How much?” Sivana asked.

“I’ll bill you,” the Professor answered.

Sivana nodded.“Good, then it is done! I will show myself to the door.”

Sivana stood and walked to the door, but Georgia ran to him and threw her arms around him.“Father, please don’t leave me here. I want to go home.”

Sivana pushed his daughter away. “Hands off me, girl. Do as you’re told.”

Georgia’s hands fell to her sides and she watched as her father walked out the door.She sniffed when the door slammed behind him.

“Georgia, I promise we’ll take care of you,” said the Professor. “You’ll make your father proud!”

Georgia turned to the Professor and dropped her head. “I don’t think that’s possible.”

Strategic Criminal Theory 101

“What is the first rule of hostage taking?” asked Professor William Hand. He taught Strategic Criminal Theory.Professor K. called him one of the greatest minds of the criminal world. Tristan Stoner thought he was just plain weird.

“Never let them know how many hostages you have,” Bo Freebird blurted.

“A good rule of thumb, Mr. Freebird, but not what I’m looking for.And please raise your hand if you wish to answer. Anyone else?”

Indira Khandhari raised her hand. “Sympathy?”

Professor Hand smiled. “Good, good.Go on.”

“To play to the public you must choose a victim the public will sympathize with,” Indira replied.

“Excellent, Ms. Khandhari! Yes, the public must see some of themselves in the victim,” Professor Hand answered. “Part sympathy and part empathy.”

Portia Cheney raised her hand.

“Yes, Portia?” asked Professor Hand.

“Sir, I don’t want to kidnap anybody.”

“But you may have to one day, Ms. Cheney.Some circumstances require it.There is no rule that says you have to harm them.They provide an excellent shield. Superheroes err on the side of caution when there is an innocent involved.”

The classroom door opened.

Tristan wasn’t sure who the gangly girl was who shuffled into the room and handed Professor Hand a slip of paper.

Professor Hand read the paper carefully, then looked up at the class. “It seems we have a new student at the school. Everyone make her feel welcome.”

The class clapped politely amid a buzz of whispers.

“Please face the class and introduce yourself,” Professor Hand directed the girl.

The girl turned and focused her eyes on the floor. “I’m Georgia... Sivana.”

“What?” said Bo Freebird. “I can’t hear her.”

“Please introduce yourself again.Louder this time,” Professor Hand instructed.

The girl’s face turned bright red.Tristan could feel her embarrassment. No, it was much deeper - shame.

“I’m Georgia Sivana,” the girl said again.Loud enough to be heard.

“Sivana?” asked Professor Hand.“Sivana Industries?”

Georgia nodded and smiled ever-so-slightly.She projected a warped sense of pride.It was like she was ashamed of herself, but proud of her name at the same time. “My father.”

Tristan was impressed! Dr. Sivana was definitely A-list!

“It is our pleasure to have you join the class,” said Professor Hand. “Please find a seat.”

Georgia spied a desk in front of Bo and started toward it but he rested one of his boots on it before she could sit.

“Woof!” he coughed.

Tristan punched him in the back.

Dr. Hand shot them both a dirty look.

Georgia’s countenance fell again and she looked around red-faced and desperate for a seat. One was available next to Chaucer and one by Indira.

“Why don’t you sit by me?” Indira asked.

Georgia nodded and settled into the desk.


Portia was glad when the lunch bell rang. She was starving. She also had a million questions for the new girl.

She rushed to the trailer she shared with Indira to put away her books. It was good that Professor K. waved the strict rules about being on time since the students were forced to live in trailers following the attack on their school.

She flung open the door and rushed inside. She threw her books on the kitchen counter and stopped by her room to freshen up.A splash of her favorite fragrance, Reality, by reality television diva, London Vega, and she was on her way to the cafeteria.

She found Indira sitting with Georgia.Zeke sat across the table from his girlfriend.

“It’s really easy,” said Indira. “Mondays and Wednesdays are World History, Literature, and Math. Tuesdays and Thursdays we have Chemistry, Biology, and Strategic Theory.Fridays are Professor Knott’s Introduction to Psychology class. And we have two training periods each day, an individual and a group training session.”

“The group session scares me,” Georgia whispered.

“Why?” Zeke asked.

“That terrible boy, Bo.”

“Don’t let him get to you,” Zeke laughed.“He’s an ass to everybody.”

“Even Portia!” Indira added.

Georgia looked unconvinced. “But she’s beautiful.”

Portia took the seat by Zeke. “Thanks, but Bo’s right. Zeke’s just an ass.”

“Hey, Goldman!”

Zeke rolled his eyes.“Speaking of the ass...”

“Add a coon dog to your harem, boy?It goes well with the dingo and the she-wolf!” Bo sat at the other table with Tristan.

“Leave them alone, Bo,” said Tristan. “Let them eat in peace.”

Bo chortled.He was obviously satisfied that he’d made life miserable for another human being even if only for a moment, and turned to make small talk with Tristan.

Zeke turned back to Georgia. “See what I mean?”

“I’ve been telling Zeke that Bo is the devil’s test of his patience,” said Indira.

Zeke shook his head. “And I tell her he’s just an ass.”

Everyone laughed and the table got quiet.

“Thank you for being so nice to me,” said Georgia.

Indira smiled. “Of course we’ll be nice to you. Why wouldn’t we be?”

“You’re supposed to be villains,” Georgia answered. “I didn’t expect this.”

“Excuse me,” said Portia. She slid out of her seat and stood.

Everyone looked up at her with puzzled looks on their faces but went back to their conversation.

“What was that all about?” she heard Zeke ask as she walked away.

She had to find the Professor. The first place she looked was the library but he wasn’t there as he often was during the lunch period.She tried his office next.Rosa was on lunch, but the doors to the Professor’s office were open. She knocked gently.“Professor K.?”

Professor Knott looked up from his work.“Ms. Cheney! What a pleasant surprise! What brings you to my office instead of enjoying lunch with your friends?”

“It’s about Georgia,” Portia replied.

Professor Knott looked surprised. “You object to her being here?”

Portia shook her head. “Nothing like that. I want to help her.”

“I laud your humanitarianism, but the school will see to her needs.You shouldn’t worry,” the Professor answered.

“I know you’ll provide her basic needs and see that she gets a quality education, but I want to do more,”

“Such as?”

“Have you looked at her?”

The Professor shuffled the papers on his desk and pretended to study them. “I don’t know what you mean.”

“You do too!” Portia protested. “Perhaps we could funnel some of her tuition into some clothes and makeup. You know? Girl stuff to help her gain some confidence.”

“I don’t believe a woman’s worth is measured by her appearance.I’m sure we’ll help Georgia find the best in herself. Besides what you’re suggesting is unethical.”

“Unethical?You’re teaching us to be super-villains for crying out loud! You’re just to damn afraid that the school may lose sponsor money if we give her the help she really needs.”

“Now see here, young lady! You can’t barge in here and talk to me that way!” the Professor answered.

“I’m sorry, sir,” Portia apologized. “I just...”

The Professor sighed. “I know, Portia. Perhaps you could help her.”

“I’m willing, but how?”

“Take her under your wing. Teach her to be a young lady. I’m sure you have enough makeup and baubles for two.”

“Are you sure the school can’t help?” Portia asked.

The Professor shook his head.“I’m sorry, but the budget is tight. Schools don’t rebuild themselves.”

Portia returned from lunch with a plan. She just had to talk to the right classmate to put it into action.

Group Training Session

“The goal of this simulation is to grade your teamwork,” said Dr. Norton. “And please don’t think that because this is a simulation that you can slack off, Freebird.These holo sims are as real as the soldiers who invaded the school.”

“We took care of them didn’t we?” Bo asked.

“The militants were repelled,” Dr. Norton answered.

“Well there you go,” said Bo.

“Show a little respect,” said Zeke.

Chaucer was happy Bo didn’t shoot back with one of his snappy remarks.The tug of war between him and Zeke was wearing on the boy genius’s nerves.

“Is everyone ready?” Dr. Norton asked.

After everyone signaled they were ready, Dr. Norton powered on the simulation.A great city appeared around the students as Dr. Norton and their current surroundings faded from view.They stood before a giant concrete ball with an incline weaving around it.“This is the Perisphere.It first served as the focal point of the 1939 New York World’s Fair along with the nearby Trylon.Later it was used as theWorld War II headquarters for the legendary All-Star Squadron.Your job is to steal Wildcat’s boxing gloves from the gymnasium on the basement floor.”

“Is that all?” Bo asked.

“And return them to the very spot on which you now stand. That will complete the assignment,” Dr. Norton’s voice answered.

“How do we get inside?” Tristan asked.

“If I told you that it wouldn’t be much of a test,” Dr. Norton replied.

“I could form the earth into a pair of giant hands and rip it open,” said Bo.

“Oh yeah.Real smooth, Bo,” said Portia. “That would make it real easy to find the boxing gloves after you left the place a mess.”

“Any better suggestions?” Bo replied.

“We could try the front door,” said Georgia. “Why not?”

Everyone shrugged their shoulders and moved to the helicline, the long, winding concrete platform that snaked around the Perisphere to usher the one-time Fair-goers inside. Once the group reached the top, the front door hissed open and they were greeted by a robot.

“I am Gernsback, robotic valet to the All-Star Squadron. May I have the password please?” said the robot.

Chaucer was taken immediately by the robot’s charm.What a perfect specimen of early advancements in the field. He wished Gernsback was more than a holosimulation.He would be a fascinating work to study.

“Password?” Zeke asked.

“Affirmative,” Gernsback replied. “Entry into the Perisphere requires the proper password.”

Bo buried his face in his hands and laughed.“You have got to be kidding me.This is too rich!”

“That is not the correct password,” Gernsback replied.

“Stop it, Bo!” said Indira.She sized up the large robot.“Justice?”

“That is incorrect,” said Gernsback.

“Come here everybody,” said Zeke.“Huddle up.”

Everyone huddled up, even if Bo did so reluctantly.“Remember, we’re getting a grade on this.Are we gonna let some tin can fail us?”

Bo nodded.“Now you’re talking, Goldman.There’s hope for you yet.”

“What do you propose?” Portia asked.

“It’s an old Buck Rogers-style robot,” Zeke replied.“Let’s rush it.At worst it probably has a gun mounted somewhere.”

“I’m kinda useless on this one,” said Tristan.“My empathy won’t work against a robot.So whatever is cool with everybody else is cool with me too.”

“Chaucer?” Bo asked.

“Don’t make the assumption that because this is the 1940's that the machine isn’t able to defend itself adequately,” Chaucer replied.

Georgia nodded. “Yeah, my dad was doing some crazy things with robots back in the 1940's. I’d love to take this thing apart and see what makes it tick.”

Chaucer couldn’t help but smile.Finally a girl with a head on her shoulders.

“I say let’s go for it,” Bo argued. “We’re thinking way too hard about this.”

“For once I agree with Bo,” added Zeke. “Come on guys! How often does that happen? It has to be the right answer.”

“Let’s take a vote,” said Tristan.“All those in favor of charging the robot say ‘Aye’”.

Everyone but Chaucer and Georgia voted in the affirmative, although not with as much enthusiasm as Bo and Zeke.

“Those opposed,” said Tristan.

Georgia and Chaucer opposed the move, but agreed since they were outvoted.

The group broke their huddle and turned to Gernsback.

“Password please,” said Gernsback.

“Go to hell, tin can,” said Bo.

“Go to hell, tin can is not the correct password. Please vacate the premises or I will be forced to remove you.”

“Now!” Zeke yelled.

Everyone rushed Gernsback. Indira tried to contain him in a stasis field but was shocked to learn that the robot emitted an energy field that stalemated her power.Bo created an army of concrete soldiers from the Helicline.Gernsback made quick work of each of them with small explosives. Tristsan fared no better.All he could do was throw chunks of concrete and use his power to keep his teammates’ courage up.

“Portia, wolf up!” said Bo.

“I’m trying!” Portia cried.“I can’t! There’s no trigger!”

“Trigger this!” Bo replied.He broke off a small chunk of concrete and hurled at her.It struck her in the head.

“Bo! Stop it!” said Portia.

“Come on, Wolf girl,” Bo mocked.“Make me.”

He struck Portia again with the concrete, this time in a hail of smaller pebbles.

Zeke punched the robot. The blow was met with a loud explosion as Gernsback employed some type of counter-percussive defense.He knocked Zeke aside, sending him over the Helicline.He struggled to hold on to the railing.

“Hold on, Zeke!” said Georgia.“I’ll save you.”

Georgia rushed to the Helicline and grabbed one of Zeke’s hands.“He’s too heavy! Somebody help!”

Indira broke away from the melee to assist Georgia in pulling Zeke over the Helicline’s railing.

Meanwhile Bo was successful in triggering Portia’s change. Unfortunately her anger was directed toward her teammate and not the robot.

“Portia! No!” said Indira as she and Georgia dragged Zeke over the railing.

Concrete shackles arose from the ground and wrapped around the Weregirl’s ankles. She jerked at them in her rage, but she was caught in the equivalent of a concrete bear trap.

“You will vacate the premises now!” said Gernsback.

“Let her go, Bo!” Indira screamed.“She’ll rip her leg off.”

“Are you nuts?” Bo shot back.“She’ll kill me if she gets her hands on me.There’s nowhere for me to go. I’m trapped up here.”

“Maybe I can help with that,” said Tristan.

He projected calm to his teammate and she began to settle down.Still her leg was bleeding from thrashing against the roughly-hewn shackles.

Chaucer saw enough.He calmly removed a glove and a small pouch from his pocket.He opened the pouch and poured what appeared to be a handful of dust into his palm. With a single light breath he blew the dust into the air and watched it settle to the ground.

Within moments the holo sim faded from view and the group stood before Dr. Norton.He didn’t look happy.

“What the hell was that?” screamed Dr. Norton.He didn’t get this rattled during the invasion.

“We... um...” said Zeke.

“That is...” Bo added.

“Both of you be silent!” said Dr. Norton.“That pitiful scene was forwarded to both Professor Knott and Dr. Hand.That was the worst display of teamwork I have ever seen in my life! Granted you didn’t have the password, but I would think you could get by a 1940's robot sentry! Freebird?”

“Yes sir?” Bo answered.

“You are aware of the Earth’s magnetic field?”

Bo nodded numbly.“Yes sir.”

“Ms. Khandahari?Your stasis field can be used indirectly on other objects in your environment as well. The same applies to you, Mr. Goldman.Rather than attack the robot, why not take the ground out from under it.Or you, Mr. Freebird?”

“Yes sir,” all three answered in unison.

“I can forgive Ms. Cheney for not being able to control her power. But what were you thinking, Mr Freebird? If you antagonize her she will see you as the enemy,” said Dr. Norton.

“She’s changing back now,” said Tristan.

“I will give Mr. Stoner a passing grade for handling Ms. Cheney as well as Ms. Sivana for saving Goldman,” Dr. Norton continued.

“And me, sir?” Chaucer asked.

“You can help rebuild the holographic simulator,” Dr. Norton answered.“Your nanite virus has wiped its programming clean.”

“I thought we were supposed to use our resources to obtain our objective,” Chaucer argued.“That is what I did.”

“Using your resources doesn’t mean dismantling very expensive school property,” Norton answered. “You’re seeing the exercise to literally. You use your resources to overcome the scenario, not destroy the holographic projectors.You fail too, Mr. Chaucer.”

Chaucer was stunned.He’d never received a failing grade in his life. Perhaps there was more to this school than he thought.

“Class dismissed,” spat a disgusted Dr. Norton.“Go on! Get out of my sight!”


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