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Annual #1
 
an FDC original series...

Higher Learning
#6
"Homework"
By David Marshall


Professor William Hand paced around the room, but said nothing. He didn't have to. The students' performance during their most recent holographic simulation spoke for itself.

Georgia Sivana was new to the school, but she understood the feeling of not pleasing the adults in your life all too well. She wished Professor Hand would stop pacing and say something - anything. Instead he walked slowly around the classroom with his hands tucked away behind his back.

When at last he spoke, he shook his head in disgust as he did so. "Your performance - or lack thereof - was shameful. You would do Ambush Bug proud! Perhaps for our next simulation we could have the Detective Chimp mop the floor with the lot of you?"

An uncomfortable silence filled the room.

"Everyone please get out your textbook. Do not open them," said Professor Hand.

The students complied. The sound of heavy textbooks slapping against smooth desktops filled the room.

"Now everyone pass your books forward please," said Professor Hand.

Georgia was genuinely interested in the contents of her textbook and didn't want to part with it, but complied. She wanted to draw attention to herself even less.

When all the books were passed to the front, Professor Hand collected them all and placed them inside a file cabinet and locked it. "Does anyone remember the first rule of engaging a superhero?"

Tristan's hand shot into the air.

Professor Hand nodded. "Tristan."

"Know your enemy," Tristan answered.

"That's correct," Professor Hand reiterated. "Know your enemy. That's only one of the mistakes you made at the Perisphere."

"Sir?" said Zeke.

"Yes, Zeke?" said Professor Hand.

"How could we have known those old geezers, let alone their robot thingie?" Zeke asked.

"The proper term, Mr. Goldman, is valet. You were trashed by the All-Star Squadron's robotic valet! But I understand your line of reasoning," Professor Hand replied. "That's why we're going to concentrate for a while on getting to know the heroes we may face."

"Meaning..." said Portia.

"Meaning you're going to know the color of toenail polish Black Canary prefers with her evening wear, Ms. Cheney. But we'll start with the heroes of the so-called "Golden Age"," Professor Hand explained.

Bo leaned back in his seat. "Half of those guys were just brawlers without powers. We could take 'em."

"Those so-called 'brawlers' wouldn't have a problem with their own valet," Professor Hand shot back. He handed out thin, matted portfolios that contained basic biographies and pictures of the members of the All-Star Squadron printed on them. "These are the heroes of the Golden Age. There were a few others, but most known heroes participated in this program. Your assignment this week is to learn all you can about them. You'll have to explain the group's origin and I'd like you to concentrate on one member and tell me how you would defeat him or her."

Georgia stared at the garish costumes and masks looking back at her from the portfolio. Why did her father insist she attend Windsor Academy? To learn about.... She searched the faces before her... Bulletman? Still if learning about the likes of Bulletman and Merry the Gimmick Girl would please her father, then Georgia would do it.

"The robot who defeated you was named Gernsback. He was created for the 1939 World's Fair and named Elektro. According to legend, Commander Steel of the All-Star Squadron worked with Robotman to convert Elektro into a useful watchdog and valet. Gernsback was first activated on February 23, 1942 for the first full meeting of the All-Star Squadron," Professor Hand explained.

"Professor Hand?" Indira asked. "Will we have another chance at defeating the robot?"

The Professor paused. "Does anyone else feel that way?"

Everyone raised their hands except Chaucer who seemed to be a million miles away as usual.

"That disappoints me," said the Professor.

"We had our butts handed to us," said Zeke. "Why wouldn't we want another crack at the bucket of bolts?"

"Because Mr. Goldman," Professor Hand replied. "Defeating Gernsback was not your assignment. The faculty at this school assumed you would get by him with relative ease. In fact we debated whether or not to include him in the simulation at all, but Professor Knott insisted on historical accuracy. Your assignment was to steal one of Wildcat's boxing gloves. That's what disappoints me. You've allowed this defeat to take your eyes off completing your original assignment. Those two-bit goons we talk so much about fall prey to the same mistake - petty revenge. Nothing will derail your purpose faster than your ego."

Georgia thought of her father's obsession with Captain Marvel. Was Professor Hand calling him a two-bit goon? "My father is determined to defeat Captain Marvel. Are you saying...."

"Of course not," Professor Hand replied. "Your father is one of the most brilliant criminal minds in the world. There is a difference between a two-bit goon sidetracked by revenge and having an arch-enemy. We'll discuss that later, but I'm handing out another study aid. This one outlines the layout of the Perisphere and Tyrlon."

"Does this mean we'll get another shot at the assignment?" Bo asked.

"You'll get your shot," Professor Hand replied. "Believe me, Mr. Freebird. You'll get your shot."

Later that Evening (After Homework Assignments... of course)

"Are you sure she won't be mad?" Indira asked.

"Why would she?" Portia replied.

The two girls made their way through the clutter of their trailer and to the door at the end of the long hallway. Portia rapped on the door lightly with her knuckles.

A few seconds later the door opened slowly. Georgia Sivana yawned. "Sorry, I was napping. What's wrong?"

"We're going to have a little fun," Portia answered. "Want to join us?"

Georgia looked confused as if she'd missed something. "Join you in what exactly?"

"Indira and I are going to spend the rest of the evening just doing girl stuff - makeup, hair, our nails. The usual."

Georgia blushed and waived the girls off. "I would rather sleep. Besides, I'm not good at that kind of thing."

"Neither am I," Indira answered. "But Portia is and she's willing to teach us."

"Besides," Portia added. "Bo's not around to act like an ass or insult us."

Georgia bit her bottom lip and guided her gaze back and forth between the two girls. "Well... Ok. But I'm warning you. I'm hardly a Barbie doll."

"You don't have to be," Indira answered. "You should see what Portia looks like when she first wakes up."

"Hey!" said Portia. She gave her friend a playful shove. "At least I'm tall enough to see in the mirror when I blow dry my hair!"

"Ouch!" said Indira.

"Where are we going to get all the stuff we need?" Georgia asked.

"No need to worry about that," Portia answered. "I have plenty enough for all of us and more where that came from."

"Your sponsor must be generous," said Georgia.

Portia arched an eyebrow and smiled wickedly. "If you only knew. If you only knew."

Tristan and Bo's Room, Men's Trailer

Tristan closed the study materials on the All-Star Squadron. He knew which hero he would choose for Professor Hand's assignment, but it wasn't for any reason his Strategic Theory professor would approve. It wasn't the garish costume that drew Tristan to his particular Squadron member, or the belief he could defeat the hero.

It was a face. Among all the smiling faces in the black-and-white photo of the wartime superhero group, only Will Everett's was like Tristan's own.

Tristan rolled Everett's moniker around his brain. Amazing Man.

Tristan admired the courage, or some might say foolishness, it took for a black man in that era to take such a name among a group of legendary white heroes. Like Jack Johnson before him, Everett tread ground usually reserved for well-to-do white men of his day. And like Jackie Robinson that followed, he paved the way for a generation of young black men to aspire to acts of heroism.

"Dude! What you doing?" Bo asked.

Tristan was so involved with the assignment he didn't hear his friend enter the room. "Just looking over the materials Professor Hand gave us."

Bo laughed. "You're actually studying that garbage? Just pick a JSAer and fake it. That's what I plan on doing. I can't believe you're actually taking this serious."

Tristan wanted to tell Bo to stuff it. "Me? Not at all. I'll probably just do the same thing."

"Yeah," Bo replied. "Who cares about a bunch of old farts in long underwear?"

Tristan held up the picture and pointed to Firebrand. "The ladies looked hot though."

Judging by the look on Bo's face, Tristan may have well said that he was carrying Darkseid's love child.

"Yeah, if you're into grandmas," Bo replied.

"Oh come on," Tristan argued. "You can't tell me you wouldn't do her if you had the chance. Look how classy she looked... they all looked."

"Dude, you're scaring me," said Bo.

"It's like All in the Family," said Tristan.

"Archie Bunker had the hots for grandmas too?" Bo asked.

"No," Tristan shot back. "That line from the theme song - when girls were girls and men were men. It's like they stepped out of the pages of Look magazine."

"I prefer London Vega on the cover of Maximum Stuff," Bo answered.

Tristan shook his head. "You're hopeless."

"And you are one seriously weird, eccentric dude," Bo answered. "Seriously weird."

Chaucer's Room

"What you reading boy?" asked Gizmo.

The enigmatic dwarf used a rocket pack to hover over Chaucer's shoulder.

"Information," Chaucer replied. He closed the window on his computer's screen.

"And they call you a boy genius!" Gizmo exclaimed. He tried to get a better look at what was on Chaucer's computer screen. "What kind of information?"

"It's for Professor Hand's Strategic Theory class," Chaucer replied.

Gizmo navigated to the other side of the desk. "Such a waste of your valuable time! You could teach any class here. Next to me, you're the smartest person I know."

Chaucer turned away.

"Dammit boy! Why so secretive? I won't tell on ya if it's porn. I've been known to surf a site or two myself. A man has needs you know." Gizmo scampered to his original position. What was Chaucer hiding?

With a deep sigh, Chaucer opened the website for Gizmo to see.

"Robotics? Too archaic, kid. You wanna build a real machine stick with cybernetics, bionics, or nanites. But robotics?"

"Specifically early advances in the field," Chaucer replied.

Gizmo shook his head. "It's about that damned simulation. Isn't it?"

Chaucer nodded. "Of course it is. I should have found a way to beat it."

"You beat it," Gizmo replied. "You shut it down."

Chaucer shook his head. "No, I shut the program down, not the robot - a fact not lost on Professor Knott."

"I thought you were using your builder nanites to repair the damage?"

"I am," said Chaucer, "But that's not the point."

"Remember that talk we had kid? Sometimes you just go with the flow and let 'em think you know what you're doing," Gizmo replied.

"I want to beat this robot."

"What?"

"I want to beat this robot."

"Ten thousand things your mind could be set on doing and this is the best you can come up with? Beating a Buck Rogers tin-can?"

"I want..."

"Yeah, yeah. I get the picture. Let me see what I can dig up." If it meant that much to the boy Gizmo would help. He turned to leave.

"Professor O'Genius?"

Gizmo stopped just short of the doorway and looked back over his shoulder. "Yeah, kid?"

"Thanks."

Gizmo smiled and shook his head. "Anytime kid."

Girl's Trailer

"Hold still. This won't hurt a bit," Portia lied.

RIP!!!

"Ouch! I thought you said it wouldn't hurt!" Georgia yelled.

"If I told you it would hurt like hell would you have sit still and let me do it?" Portia asked.

Georgia held out her leg and stared at the four inch square of smooth skin amidst her forest of overgrown follicles. "No, but that's just one little strip. I have the rest of that leg and the entire other one to go. Isn't there a less painful way than waxing? What about a razor?"

"I agree," said Indira. "This method looks quite painful, Portia."

The girls were cramped into the larger of the two baths in the trailer they shared on campus. They all wore long t-shirts and little else. Even kneeling on the floor before Georgia who sat on the toilet seat, Portia was every bit in control and seemed to enjoy the pain she inflicted. "No pain, no gain. Besides razors are so twentieth-century."

"Ok, ok. Let's just get it over with," said Georgia.

"Guys, I'm gonna hop in the shower and be a twentieth-century girl. Sorry to spoil the fun," said Indira. "But I don't handle pain well."

"Ok, spoilsport. Whatever," said Portia.

Georgia pleaded with her eyes for Indira to rescue her.

"Oh, stop that!" said Portia. "It won't kill you."

"Why are you doing this?" Georgia asked.

"What do you mean?" Portia answered. She patted another tacky adhesive strip against Georgia's leg and ripped it away.

Georgia winced in pain. "You try so hard to include me. I know I'm not as pretty as you and Indira, but I don't need your pity."

Portia looked up. "Pity? I don't pity you."

"Yes you do," Georgia insisted. "It's ok that some people aren't beautiful, you know."

"We're all beautiful," Portia stammered.

"Cut the crap," said Georgia. "You see me as Allison to your Claire."

"Who? What are you talking about?" Portia asked.

"The Breakfast Club. Ever seen it?"

Portia nodded. "A couple of times. Great movie."

"Remember when Claire fixes up the basket-case and transforms her from an ugly duckling to a swan? Ally Sheedy's character was named Allison," Georgia explained.

"Oh," Portia replied.

"I don't need your Claire makeover."

"I didn't see Molly Ringwald doing this!" Portia ripped out another strip of hair.

Georgia yelped, but maintained her composure. "I know I'm a dog."

Portia finally heard enough. "No, I'm a dog! Remember? At least you're fully human! You want me to feel sorry for you? Too damn bad! You know what? I was trying to be extra nice to you, but not because of your looks. You're new and I could tell you felt out of place. I want you to feel like you belong with us, but if you're going to act like a ..."

"What's going on?" Indira asked. She rushed from the bathroom with a towel around her. She had cut her leg shaving. "I heard yelling."

"I deserved it." Georgia bowed her head.

"No one deserves to be yelled at. Why is Portia yelling?"

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to yell," said Portia.

"It's ok," Georgia answered. "It was my fault. I'm just not used to anyone treating me so well. I can't help but be suspicious."

Indira stared wide-eyed at the two girls. "If you two are going to be ok, I'm gonna hop back in the shower."

"Go ahead," said Georgia. "We'll be fine."

Indira left the girls alone.

"I do need help," said Georgia.

"What do you mean?" Portia asked.

"Ok, now you're insulting my intelligence," said Georgia. "I just meant I've never really been around girls to learn this stuff."

"Stick with me, girl. I love this stuff."

"You know what would be great?" Georgia asked.

"What?" Portia replied.

"If I looked as pretty as Ally Sheedy did when Molly Ringwald transformed her."

Portia smiled at Georgia. "You already are."

"Yeah, right. I...." Georgia yelped again as another swath of hair was ripped from her leg. "Son of a..."

"Such language from a lady's mouth!" Portia teased.

"You may make a girl out of me," Georgia swore. "But a lady? I doubt...."

Again Georgia yelped.

"Now where were we?" Portia asked. "Oh yeah... You know you look a lot better without all that black shit under your eyes."

Georgia smiled. "I like that black shit under my eyes. Why are you being so nice to me?"

Portia ripped another patch of hair away. "Because you're letting me."

Strategic Theory 101, the Following Day

"And that's how I would beat Atom," said Bo.

"Very inspired choice, Mr. Freebird," Professor Hand said sarcastically.

"Thank you, sir," Bo replied.

"Between you and Zeke I'm sure the Golden Age Atom is trembling in his grave," Professor Hand answered. "And do you want to know the truth? Both of you?"

"Sure," the two boys replied.

"Neither of you could touch him on his worst day. Next."

Tristan stood and walked to the front of the classroom.

"Please tell me you've not chosen the Atom as well," said Professor Hand.

Tristan shook his head. "No, sir. I chose Amazing Man, Will Everett."

Professor Hand smiled. "Do proceed. Maybe it will erase the image of the Atom mopping the floor with Freebird and Goldman from my mind."

"Amazing Man never asked to be a hero," said Tristan. "All he wanted to be was a great athlete. He got his wish by medaling in multiple events at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin - the same Olympics as Jessee Owens. Hitler was humiliated that two young black men struck a blow against Aryan supremacy. But after the Olympics, Everett returned home to find that blacks were still shut out of the higher paying jobs. He tried baseball but the Major Leagues were a full decade from the Dodgers taking a gamble on Jackie Robinson. A proud man, he refused to join the Negro Leagues. Humbled and bitter, Everett went to work as a janitor for Terry Curtis who was working for the Ultra-Humanite."

"Realizing the potential in Everett's well-honed body, the Ultra-Humanite experimented on him. The experiments resulted in his original powers which was to take on the physical property of anything he touched. Later, when exposed to radiation from an experimental generator he acquired the power of magnetic control. He could attract and repel metal objects."

"I chose Amazing Man for two reasons. First he was black like me, or at least I'm half black. Secondly he began his career on the "wrong side of the law". He turned against the Ultra-Humanite and Terry Curtis and helped the All-Stars defeat them. He joined the All-Star Squadron when they assisted with the race riots in Detroit."

"Excellent information, Mr. Stoner," said Professor Hand. "Now how would you defeat him?"

"It would be much more difficult than you'd imagine," said Tristan. "I'd definitely not want to make it a hand-to-hand combat situation."

"Very good," said Professor Hand. "He'd kill you if it wasn't for their infernal code against it."

"I'd use his past against him - tap into the deep-rooted bitterness and bring those feelings to the surface again," Tristan replied. "Make him see his teammates as his enemy and either let them defeat him or him defeat them."

"Interesting application of your power," said Professor Hand. "However, the assignment was how you would defeat an individual superhero, so you're assuming a potential weapon that is not there. Still, I'm giving you a passing grade on the assignment since you obviously did your homework and demonstrated an original plan of attack, even if for the wrong situation. Excellent work."

The class clapped for Tristan. He was slightly embarrassed that his project was so much better than everyone else's, but proud they recognized his hard work. He stole a glance to the heavens and whispered in his mind, "This one's for you Will Everett, wherever you are."

Professor Hugo Knott's Office, The Same Day

"Hello?" Professor Knott regarded the telephone as a necessary evil in his profession. Unfortunately it bore bad news as often as it did good.

"Professor Hugo Knott?" said the voice on the other end.

"Yes?"

<"Sir my name is Raul Pena. I'm with El Tabloide in Tulua Valley. I would like to do a story on your students.">

<"I appreciate your interest, Mr. Pena but that won't be possible. Such a story may put my students at further risk,"> said the Professor. <"You've heard of our recent troubles?">

<"I have,"> Pena replied. <"But what if I take pains to assure no one can associate your students with the article?">

<"I'm sorry, Mr. Pena but I cannot grant your request. Good day.">

Professor Knott hung up the phone. Between the attention garnered by what happened at the pier and the school's recent trouble with El Diablo it was imminent that some reporter would nose around. If Mr. Pena knew what was good for him he would stay away. The school couldn't afford an information leak and Professor Knott vowed to plug up unauthorized disclosures by whatever methods were necessary.

Thumbing through a stack of papers on his desk the Professor stopped at two files. The files contained information on three possible applicants. He was reluctant to accept more students but all three showed promise and something his other students seemed to lack - a criminal edge. If the recent simulation proved anything it was that the students were too soft. Perhaps bringing in a ruthless element or two would shake things up. Or would it do just the opposite and tear apart the seedlings of teamwork already planted? It was times such as these the Professor wished he wasn't the one making the executive decisions.

With a heavy heart he pressed his intercom button. "Rosa? Would you step into my office please?"

As usual the always compliant secretary was quick to do as she was asked. "Yes, Professor?"

"Contact the sponsors of these children. I want to see them."

"The children or the sponsors?" Rosa asked.

"The children. Unfortunately, I know the sponsors all too well."

Rosa nodded and took the files. She quickly disappeared to her desk leaving the Professor alone and hoping he'd not invited a worse element into the school than El Diablo's goons.

The Moon, JLA Watchtower

"You understand your role then?" Superman asked.

"I do," answered the teen standing before the Justice League.

Batman crossed his arms. "You understand you will be on your own without regular contact?"

"Yes."

"Don't betray us," Wonder Woman warned.

"I won't."

The Flash stood. "Again I go on record against this idea."

"Noted," said Batman. "This was a League decision."

"I'm ready," said the JLA mole.

"We've set this up for weeks," said Batman. "Don't blow it."

"If you need anything I'm a whisper away," said Superman.

"I'm not a child. I can handle this."

J'onn J'onzz lead the teen away.

Flash watched the mole disappear through the hydraulic doors with J'onn. League decision or not someone would answer to him if the Windsor Academy students were harmed.


 

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