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Annual #1
 
an FDC original series...

Higher Learning
#7
"Homework"
By David Marshall


The Windsor Academy students approached the Perisphere tentatively. They didn't want to blow it again. A few short weeks prior they were given the assignment of stealing Wildcat's boxing gloves from the gymnasium of the headquarters of the legendary World War II hero group, the All Star Squadron. Unfortunately they failed miserably, bested by the All Star's robot sentry, Gernsback. No, make that a hard light simulation of Gernsback. Zeke Goldman was happy for a second chance. It was his bright idea to charge the robot and Bo wouldn't let anyone forget it. Of course the loudmouth conveniently forgot that he went along in complete agreement to the doomed plan, but Bo was like that.

The students assumed the robot was unarmed - a fancy vacuum cleaner that asked for passwords. They were wrong and Zeke paid dearly for his mistake. He was swept over the Helicline - the concrete walkway that wound around the outside of the Perisphere and served as its entrance. If not for his girlfriend Indira and the newest student, Georgia Sivana, he would have fallen.

But the students earned a second opportunity to accomplish their mission and Zeke wasn't going to let his team down. Everyone was determined to beat the All Stars or at least freakin' Gernsback! It was all the students talked about. During lunch Zeke's clique sat under the big elm tree and studied every minute detail of the Perisphere and Trylon. Professor Hand saw to it that they knew the All Stars tendencies and weaknesses.

"Ok gang," said Bo Freebird, Zeke's sometime nemesis and constant pain in the backside to everyone. "Let's show this bucket of bolts who he's dealing with."

The Windsor crew climbed the Helicline with guarded confidence. They were better prepared but wouldn't take anything for granted.

Sure enough Gernsback appeared once they reached the top. "May I please have the password?"

"I'll give you a password," said Bo. "Bite me!"

"Bite me is not the correct password," Gernsback answered.

"Bo! Shut up!" said Portia.

"Yeah dude," Tristan added. "This got us nowhere last time."

Georgia Sivana approached Gernsback. "Hi. I'm Georgia."

Zeke couldn't put his finger on it but she looked different somehow.

"Georgia not recognized," said Gernsback. "May I have the password?"

"What's she doing?" Bo howled. "She thinks she's got all the answers just because her dad plays in the big leagues? Here's a plan. I say we bust it up!"

Zeke shook his head in disgust. Bo seemed destined to be one of those villains Professor Knott called Glass Jaws.

Georgia wrung her hands. "May I have a hint?"

Gernsback computed the request. "Hints are not allowed. Password please!"

"Victory?" Georgia asked.

"Victory was yesterday's password," Gernsback replied. "You have one more opportunity or you will be removed from the premises."

As Georgia backed away Zeke realized why she looked so different. She walked with more confidence. Her thick unibrow and bowl haircut were missing. Her hair was cut in flowing bangs that framed her face. Her legs were shaved. Even her clothes were a little more stylish, and she wore makeup! Not a lot, but enough to give her face much-needed feminine definition. What brought about the sudden change?

"Let me try," said Tristan.

"Dude! Your powers won't work against a freakin' robot!" Bo taunted.

"I'm not going to use my powers," Tristan answered.

"Then what are you going to do? You know the password or something?" Bo shot back.

Tristan approached Gernsback slowly.

"You are unrecognized," said Gernsback.

"I am Tristan Stoner."

"Password please," said Gernsback.

Zeke held his breath and readied himself for another fight. He hoped Tristan knew what he was doing.

"Keep 'em flying!" Tristan whispered coarsely.

Gears and motors hummed to life within the robot's chest cavity as he backed away from Tristan.

"He's going to attack!" Zeke yelled. "Tristan, get behind me!"

The students snapped into a defensive position.

"Password recognized," said Gernsback. "Follow me, please."

Zeke couldn't believe it. "No way!"

"What the heck?" a stunned Bo asked. "I wanted to see the robot tear the wise-guy limb from limb!"

"You're all heart, Freebird," said Portia Cheney.

"I believe Tristan gave the proper password," said Chaucer.

Gernsback pivoted one-hundred eighty degrees on his metallic frame and rolled toward an opening door. "This way please."

The students followed the All Star's valet into the massive Perisphere.

Zeke couldn't put his finger on it, but something felt wrong. It wasn't supposed to be so easy.

Gernsback led the group to a large assembly room. A podium stood at the center of the room with a large viewer screen on the wall behind it. Seats were arranged on risers around the podium to give the assembled an unobstructed view of the speaker or the information on the viewer. Zeke couldn't help but think of his old school's band room.

"You will wait here while I get an on-duty All Star," said Gernsback. The robot sentry disappeared into a recessed elevator door in the wall.

"Uh-oh! That doesn't sound good," said Indira.

"Not at all," Portia echoed.

"Perhaps it would be expedient if we were elsewhere when the robot returns with said All Star," Chaucer warned.

"I agree," Zeke answered. "Last thing we need is Green Lantern or Hawkman to come through that door! They are bad-ass!"

The Windsors rushed from the room and searched the empty hallway. Zeke wasn't sure they wouldn't run into a wondering All-Star there either, but Bo's mention of the JSA members somehow made the move seem wiser.

"Now what?" Portia asked.

The hallway was lined with doors. Zeke was unsure which one to take and if anyone else had an idea they weren't volunteering.

"This is all wrong!" said Indira. "The schematics we were given didn't include this hallway!"

"Then we do what we do best!" Bo answered.

"Which is?" Zeke asked.

Bo grinned and lifted his right eyebrow. "We improvise!"

Tristan voiced perfectly exactly what Bo thought about the plan. "Oh crap! We're dead!"

"Maybe not," said Chaucer. "Up on the right! Those doors are recessed much like the one Gernsback disappeared into. I surmise they are elevator doors as well."

There was a brief moment when everyone waited for someone else to agree with or nix the plan. No one did.

"Any alternatives?" Zeke asked. He knew Professors Knott and Hand were watching from their remote location. It seemed like a wise thing to ask.

"Hawkman! Green Lantern!" said Bo.

Yeah, there was that!

"Sounds like a winner!" Zeke agreed. "Come on!"

The students rushed to the doors and were relieved to discover it was indeed an elevator. They waited impatiently as the doors seem to take forever to open, but at last they did and the crew stuffed themselves into a small space.

"Eww!" said Portia.

"What is it?" Indira asked.

Portia wiped a large dollop of grease from her arm. "Why did we have to pick a service elevator?"

"Hawkman! Green Lantern!" Bo yelled.

"Yes! We know! Now shut up about it!" everyone yelled in unison.

"What floor?" Bo asked sourly.

"Didn't you study at all?" Indira asked.

"Duh... yeah!" Bo replied.

"Then what floor?" Indira probed.

"Three," Bo replied.

"Three it is then," Indira replied. She squeezed by Bo and pushed the button for floor three.

"But that's not..." said Zeke.

"We'll drop you off at floor three while the rest of us go to the basement where the gym is located," said Indira.

Everyone snickered.

"Yuck it up," Bo sneered. "Sorry I missed that part!"

Indira pushed the button for the basement level.

The elevator jerked to life and descended but stopped as quickly as it began. The doors swished open at floor three and the students stood face to face with Dan the Dyna-mite who approached the elevator from the far end of the hall. When he saw the Windsor students he ran toward the elevator. "Hey! Who are you guys?"

"Just looking for a restroom," Zeke answered quickly. He was never a good liar.

Dan was nearly to the elevator. "Stop! Hold the door! Identify yourselves! That is a freight elevator!"

Indira fingered the "Door Close" button frantically. "Come on! Come on!"

The young, costumed crime fighter drew even closer.

"Close the door Indira!" Portia cried.

"I'm trying! I'm trying!" Indira answered. "It's not my fault it's an antique!"

"Not yet it isn't!" Portia replied. "We're in the 1940's! Remember?"

At the last possible moment, the doors closed in Dan's face and the elevator dropped once more. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief.

"We've been spotted," said Zeke.

"They have to wake early in the morning to get one by you," Bo countered.

"You know what would have been a better plan?" Georgia asked.

Bo listened carefully. He respected Georgia's levelheadedness.

"To have one of your dad's schemes foiled by Captain Marvel again?" Bo sneered.

"Ignore the village idiot", said Portia. "You were saying, Georgia?"

"We should have split up with one group staying to meet whatever All-Stars showed up," Georgia replied.

"Too bad we didn't think of that first," said Indira. "We were so worried about getting past the robot that we didn't plan on what to do if we made it inside."

"Well we're here so let's make the best of it," said Zeke.

An alarm blared to life.

"Or not," Portia sighed. "Crap!"

Bo laughed. "Such a pretty mouth and yet so dirty! I like it!"

"Why don't you go..." Portia yelled but was cut off mid-sentence. The elevator doors whooshed open once more and this time the students stood face to face with the Young All-Stars!

"If you wanted the nickel tour you should have asked," said Dan the Dyna-mite.

"We were just...." Zeke stuttered.

"Looking for the bathrooms," Indira added.

Portia smiled nervously and nodded her head. "Absolutely! You know us girls! When we gotta pee, we gotta pee!"

Dan wrinkled his nose. "What kind of girl talks like that in public? And I don't care who you are or why you're down here! This is a restricted area!"

His fellow All-Stars postured behind him. They appeared to be itching for a fight.

"Going up or do we fight?" Tristan asked his classmates.

"We get what we came for," Bo replied. A concrete fist rose from the floor and slugged Dan across the room.

"Bo!" Zeke yelled. "You could at least give us time to get out of the elevator! You inbred idiot!"

Arn Munroe helped Dan to his feet and rushed the Windsor Academy students. "That was a real bad idea!"

"We agree," said Tristan. "Don't you guys have a team idiot of your own?"

The Young All-Stars struck with surprising speed.

"I'll take your lack of an answer as a no," Tristan sighed. "I hate this part!"

Zeke squared off against Dan the Dyna-mite who still looked woozy from Bo's attack. The two traded a few blows to feel one another out. After a few moments it became apparent that although Zeke was a little stronger, any advantage was lost to the pint-size hero's physical condition and acrobatic abilities. No matter how hard Zeke tried, he couldn't land a solid punch. Probably why Bo didn't knock him senseless.

The Dyna-mite had no such problem. He moved like a cat and darted in and out of Zeke's clumsy whiffs. He promptly landed his own punch after each miss.

Zeke's frustration led him right into the one thing he remembered about the Young All-Star his dyna-rings. After the young hero touched the two rings together his next punch felt like Zeke had been hit by a freight train. The explosion alone nearly deafened him at such close range.

Elsewhere the individual battles raged on.

"I don't want to hurt you, little girl," Arn Munroe said to Indira.

"And they say chivalry's dead!" Indira replied. "Guess what, hero? I can take care of myself!"

A purple stasis field rendered Arn immobile.

Fury rushed to her boyfriend's side and tried in vain to release him. "Arn? Can you hear me, love? What has she done to you?"

"You are terrified of the stasis field," Tristan suggested to the young Amazon.

Fury cowered from the quantum manipulation. "Please don't let it swallow me! Keep it away!"

"You call yourself Tsunami, huh?" Bo asked as he squared off with the former villainess-turned-hero. "Let's see what happens when I give you more water than you can handle!"

A water main beneath the basement exploded with such force it ripped through the concrete floor and caught Tsunami in its powerful wake or so it seemed. Before she was slammed into the ceiling, the current turned at her bidding and she rode through the heart of the violent eruption, adding the overflow of its energy to her own strength and clocked Bo with a hard right hand. "Arrogant fool! You cannot give me too much water!"

Portia's painful screams cut the air and roused Zeke from his clouded state. Her face was frozen in horror as she struggled with an arrow Tigress shot through her leg.

"I don't know what you do little girl, but I won't give you the time to find out!" said Tigress. The graceful archer moved in for the kill.

Portia's fear and pain triggered her transformation. She quickly morphed into her lycanthropic form and pounced on her prey. Now it was Tigress's turn to cry.

"Trust me!" Georgia warned Neptune Perkins. "You don't want to know what I can do!"

"I'll take my chances," the aquatic hero warned.

Great! He didn't go for her bluff. Bo's mistake would cost Georgia as well if Zeke couldn't find the strength to stop Neptune Perkins from reaching her. She had no superpowers and the excess water flooding the basement added to his strength. She could get seriously hurt.

Georgia backed off and bumped into Dan the Dyna-mite.

The diminutive hero quickly seized her and held her for his ally.

Zeke was fully charged from Dan's exploding rings and ached to show the Young All-Star just how his dyna-blasts felt!

"Dan! Look out!" warned Neptune. "Duck!"

The mighty mite was nimble enough to duck Zeke's blow, but the haymaker unloaded on Neptune Perkins with the strength of Dan's own TNT punch.

The blow turned the tide of the battle. Georgia and Zeke were able to defeat Dan although they earned no style points with Georgia jumping on his back and clawing at him like a madwoman while Zeke took his shots where he could get them. At last Dan fell to the floor.

Meanwhile Flying Fox rendered himself invisible and walked among the fray. He would have turned the tide of the battle if Chaucer wasn't prepared. He retrieved a penlight from his pocket protector and shined it around the room. It bathed the room with an eerie ray that illuminated the unseen frequencies of the solar spectrum. The Fox was barely outside the range of human eyesight and the device left him easy to spot.

"Just as I thought," said Chaucer. "Your disappearing act is more science than magic."

A turn of the penlight and a concentrated beam of white sound drove Flying Fox to his knees.

Chaucer seemed pleased that his invention worked so well. At least until the real Flying Fox showed up behind him and wrapped his strong arms around Chaucer's waist. "You saw what I wanted you to see. Nothing more, little boy! Now stop right this minute!"

Somehow in the fray Tristan appeared with a pair of boxing gloves.

Zeke hoped they belonged to Wildcat.

Just when it looked like they might get out of the Perisphere with what they came for, someone shouted over the fray. "What the hell is going on here?"

Even the All-Stars stopped fighting. The voice demanded immediate attention.

"Please don't be Hawkman or Green Lantern," begged a wet, badly beaten Bo Freebird.

It wasn't either of those heroes, but Zeke did recognize him from his studies.

"Who are you people and how did you get in the Perisphere?" Amazing Man asked.

Tristan stood transfixed. "We... we...."

"We've got what we came for," Georgia replied.

"You went to all this trouble for boxing gloves?" asked Amazing Man.

Zeke felt foolish and reminded himself the heroes weren't real. "Yeah, that's all we wanted were a pair of Wildcat's gloves."

"Still, you don't walk into our headquarters and trash the place without answering to someone," said Amazing Man.

Dan the Dyna-mite stirred and lifted himself from the floor. "Someone get that thing off Tigress!" Amazing Man changed into a being of solid concrete and wrapped his arms around Portia. "Someone help me with this thing. It's strong."

"It's a she," Bo replied.

"Tristan, do your thing," said Georgia.

Tristan nodded and closed his eyes. Portia reverted back to her human form.

"She's just a young girl!" exclaimed Amazing Man, releasing his grip. "That arrow! Tigress, the use of deadly force isn't permitted!"

"If I used deadly force she would be dead!" Tigress scowled.

"So you're not Nazi saboteurs?" Arn Munroe asked.

"Nazis?" Tristan asked. "Dude! Look at my skin! Do I look like I'd hang with a group of Nazis?"

The All-Stars turned their attention to Tristan and seemed to relax.

"What do you want with the boxing gloves?" Amazing Man asked.

"We're students," Indira replied.

"Fans," Tristan added.

Amazing Man shook his head and smiled. "Go on! Get out of here before someone gets hurt! All you had to do was ask."

Zeke was shocked. "Really? It was that simple? Just ask?"

"They're boxing gloves," Fury answered. "It's not like they're irreplaceable."

"And we have a million pair of them," Dan added.

"Sixty-three pair actually," Flying Fox corrected.

"Either way, they weren't worth all this," said Amazing Man.

"Ok, we'll be going now," said Bo as he picked himself up off the floor. "You guys are lucky we didn't wipe you out."

"You're lucky I didn't kill you," Tsunami hissed.

"And you," said Tigress to Portia. "Next time I will have a silver tipped arrow waiting with your name all over it."

"The wolf-girl needs immediate medical attention," said Amazing Man.

Zeke shook his head. "Happens all the time. She's a fast healer."

"Are you sure?" Amazing Man asked. "We have the best medical facilities in the area."

"I'll be fine," Portia grunted.

Georgia and Tristan helped her to her feet and supported her weight as they walked her to the elevator.

"Ok then," said Amazing Man. "You've got what you wanted! Now go!"

The Windsor students squeezed into the elevator once more. The doors nearly closed when Tristan stopped them and stepped out.

"Amazing Man?" he asked.

"Yeah kid?"

"Would you sign one of the gloves for me?" Tristan asked.

Of all the lame things Zeke had ever seen, Tristan's request ranked up there. "Come on, Tristan! He's a freakin' hard light sim!"

"I think they're on drugs," said Dan.

"Sure kid," said Amazing Man. He looked around the gym and found a pen by the scorer's table and took one of the gloves from Tristan. "Who should I make it out to?"

"Tristan."

Amazing Man scribbled on the glove and handed it to Tristan. "I'm not sure how you got messed up with this bunch kid, but you'd better think long and hard about what you're doing."

Tristan took the glove from Amazing Man and thanked him before hopping on the elevator with his friends.

The doors closed and the group began their ascent back to the top floor lobby.

"What the hell was that?" Bo asked.

"If you're gonna be a hero's bitch, at least make it a real one and not Super Mario," said Zeke.

Bo slapped him a high five. It was weird being on Bo's side for once and getting along with him.

"Leave him alone," said Indira. "He has his reasons."

"Oh, Mr. Everett what big muscles you have," Bo mocked. "Can I touch them please?"

Zeke laughed. "You've just got to sign my autograph book!"

"Go to hell! Both of you," Tristan barked.

The ride to the lobby was quiet the rest of the way.

The doors finally whooshed open and Gernsback escorted the Windsors outside. "Thank you for visiting the Perisphere. Keep 'em flying!"

Once the students reached the bottom of the helicline, the setting faded from view and they stood on the large rubber pad that projected the enviroscape.

"My leg! It doesn't hurt anymore," said Portia.

"That's because your wound was not real," said Chaucer. "The pain you experienced was psychosomatic."

"Much better," said Dr. Norton. "You achieved your objective, but before anyone gets cocky I set the difficulty meter to easy. Still your performance was a marked improvement over your last foray against the All-Stars. As a group you pass. You will receive your individual assessments tomorrow morning when I've had adequate time to analyze your actions. Class dismissed."

Zeke expected a little more fanfare but was just happy the simulation was over. He caught up to Indira and put his arm around her. She pushed it away.

"Get away from me," she said.

"What did I do?"

"Think about it while you eat lunch with Bo," said Indira.

Zeke was confused. "I don't get it!"

"And you're obviously not going to anytime soon!" said Portia.

The Office of Professor Hugo Knott, That Afternoon

"You wanted to see me, Professor K?" Tristan asked.

Professor Knott looked up from his work. "Yes I did, Mr Stoner. Please enter and shut the door behind you."

Tristan closed the heavy door and shuffled to one of the chairs opposite the Professor's desk. "Yes sir?"

"I watched the video feed of your performance," said Professor Knott. "You do an excellent job with Portia. I'd like to explore that some more."

"Thank you, sir," said Tristan. "But that's not why you wanted to see me."

The Professor admired the boy's frankness. "That is correct. It is highly inappropriate to idolize one's enemy. At best your peers in the underworld may view your fascination as a conflict of interest, shall we say."

Tristan dropped his head. "I understand, sir. It's just..."

"I also read your report on Amazing Man and understand your feelings. Mr. Everett was a pioneer in the metahuman community," said Professor Knott. "I respect that and I want to assure you that our meeting today has nothing to do with the color of your skin or his. It's about allegiance. It's fine to respect Mr. Everett on the professional level, but you can't graze on the opposite side of the philosophical fence, so to speak. Do I make myself clear?"

"I didn't think I was being singled out because of my skin," Tristan replied.

"Good," Professor Knott replied. "I won't tolerate prejudice of any kind in this school."

"I know, sir," Tristan answered. "I wouldn't be here otherwise. No disrespect intended."

"None taken," Professor Knott replied. "Maybe it's good that you have someone to look up to." Professor Knott added.

The boy could certainly find worse role models than Will Everett. Besides, he was dead and was never more than a minor hero, even in his heyday despite his pioneering status. What harm could he cause the boy?

"Sir?"

Professor Knott smiled and shook his head. "Nothing son. Just an old man talking to himself. You may go."

"So it's ok what I did?"

"Yes and no," Professor Knott replied. "Believe me, if I could get the Crimson Avenger's autograph, I'd certainly relish the opportunity, even a hardlight sim that would fade after I stepped away from the Enviroscape. He opened the floodgates for costumed crimefighters and vigilantes alike. In a way, he's the grandfather of us all! You have a sense of history and I can't fault you for that. In fact I encourage it, but the others may not share your enthusiasm. They may not understand and mistake your admiration for betrayal to our ideals. Perhaps if you kept your admiration private?"

Tristan nodded. "I understand. May I go now?"

Professor Knott nodded. "Certainly and congratulations on achieving your objective. It didn't escape my notice that you were the one who captured the target."

Tristan's face lit up with a smile. "Thank you, sir!"

Professor Knott sighed as the boy ran out of the office. The question Dr. Norton asked him several weeks prior echoed through his mind.

"Are you sure we're doing the right thing, Hugo?"

Professor Knott brushed aside the question then by making light of men in their line of work worrying about doing the right thing. Was it right to impose his will upon the children? He thought of boiling lobsters. Turn the heat up slowly and they didn't even realize the water was boiling them alive until it was too late.

Was it right to remove these children's souls piece by piece and replace them with generations of hatred?

Rosa's voice over the intercom interrupted the Professor's cerebration. "Professor the boy is here."

The Professor fingered his intercom button. "I'll be right out."


 

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