by Bek D Corbin
June 12th 2016
The cargo VTOL circled the remote base three times before being given permission to land. This was expected and usual. When the VTOL landed, prisoners came out to help unload it. Again, this was expected and usual. But as the young men, little more than boys, in thick coats over red scrubs unloaded boxes, a woman in a stylish coat, wearing a chic hat and trim trousers alit from the VTOL. She wasn’t in a uniform or in chains or in any sort of strange life support system. She was expected, but quite unusual. She paused and looked around. As far as the eye could see, flat desolate tundra stretched with only a few patches of scrabbly green breaking up the taupe of the barren ground. It was just within the Arctic Circle, and at these latitudes, even at the height of Summer, it was in the mid-40s. In a couple of months, Winter would overrun Autumn, and the place would become the frigid icebox that the Lower 48 tends to think that the rest of Alaska is year-round. There was no sign of any road. To strike out into that tundra without a vehicle right now would be dangerous going on foolhardy; come winter it would be a death sentence. But despite that glaringly obvious fact, the base was surrounded by a double-fence with thick reinforced concrete pillars, and between the barbed wire-topped fences there was a five-foot wide empty area. Signs on the fence stated that the fences were electrified, and that the space between them was a minefield. A Sensor packet on a track moved across the space over the minefield. The only signs of anything to protect- or contain- were three large concrete discs set about a quarter mile apart, and a few squat poured concrete bunkers.
A USAF Technical Sergeant walked up to her and demanded her business, as though she’d somehow managed to sneak onto the cargo plane unseen. The woman reached into her purse and handed him some official papers. There was some back and forth between them, but the woman got her way. After pointedly getting the papers back from the Sergeant, she followed him to one of the bunkers. The bunker was more of a heat lock for the underground complex than a building. Once inside, her purse and coat were taken from her and searched, and she passed through a cordon of examination sensors that compared well with most upscale hospitals. Once that was done, the Sergeant led the woman down a rather standard military corridor with colored lines for guiding people- and automated pallets- to their destinations on the floor. He guided her to a- for the location- nicely appointed office with the usual bureaucratic necessities, including the obligatory half-hour wait for an appointment that had been set three days ago.
The woman spent the time laying down cards in patterns and trying to see if she could tell anything. Then the secretary finally told her that the colonel was ready. The woman scooped up the cards, tucked them back in her purse and entered the Colonel’s office. The Colonel’s office was, as so often is, something of a reflection of the Colonel himself: of good quality material but Spartan, hard but not harsh, just comfortable enough to be around for long periods of time but not a scrap of luxury more, and utterly no whimsy at all. Neither the office nor the man were actively hostile, but neither invited polite chitchat either. “Miss Diabolik, WHY are you here?” the Colonel asked.
“My name is Frost,” she replied in a tone that said that he wasn’t scoring any points off her, “Jadis Frost. I am here to see Tyler Collier. You knew that. My statement of intent was filed a week before I stepped on the plane for Anchorage. Why are you asking me questions you already know the answers to?”
“Why do you want to see the Rockhound?”
“Tyler Collier is not a supervillain or a professional criminal, and he does not use the name ‘Rockhound’,” Jadis shot back.
“It was his handle on that ‘Wiz Kids’ reality show he was on.”
“Maybe, but your use of it implies that he’s already been convicted. To the best of my knowledge- which was updated an hour ago- the USAG’s office still hasn’t filed papers. They’re hoping to use the ‘Six Week Safety’ rule to get around Habeas Corpus. Speaking of which, Tyler Collier hasn’t even been arraigned yet, so why is he being kept in the Maximum Security silo of this scenic little hellhole?”
“So that we won’t have to move him when the charges are filed,” the Colonel said with the chill certainty of conviction.
“And why is he being denied internet access and communication with his family?”
“Because the first is Standard Operating Procedure for Silo Two,” the Colonel said standing on the firm ground of established procedure. “And the reason for the second is that they haven’t tried to contact him. My understanding is that his father has legally disowned him.” The Colonel said the last as though he approved of the father’s action.
Sensing that the Colonel was digging in his heels, Jadis dug out her smartphone and hit an ultra button. Holding up the phone, Jadis said, “Colonel, Tyler Collier has not been charged with any crimes and my visit with him has been pre-approved by both Department of Health and Human Service and the Federal Bureau of Prisons, which oversee the cases of the patients and prisoners respectively. You are in charge of security for this place. Is there a security related reason why are you preventing me from seeing Tyler Collier?”
“Your trip presumes-”
“That’s a Yes or No question, Colonel.”
The Colonel backed down a micrometer. “No.”
“Then why are we talking? You’re a busy man, and I’m eating into your schedule.”
“Collier is dangerous. That’s why he’s here.”
“I’m more dangerous than he is.” Jadis backed down a bit. “I am willing to observe and abide by the safety regulations established for a meeting with a… resident… who is currently not entirely safe for normal visitors.”
The Colonel clearly knew that he wasn’t scoring any points. So he reached into his desk and produced a Release from Liability form, which he had Frost sign. Then he called a sergeant and had him escort Jadis to the ‘Red’ silo, and there to a meeting room. The meeting room was your basic prison visitation booth- designed with the Incredible Hulk in mind. The clear ‘glass’ partition between them was five 1” thick plates of an unnamed but extremely tough plastic that was designed to shatter, rather than pass the impact onto the next plate. The counter was made of Messingite™, a Fullerene compound that was made of literally billions of layers of fractal crystal carbon-based molecules each 2 feet wide, 4 feet long, and a single molecule thin. Messingite was only slightly less hard than diamond, and remarkably tougher. Other than the chairs, the counter and the partition, there was nothing in the room. The only method of contact between the two halves of the room was the tunnel-like hole at the bottom of the partition. And even then, Jadis knew that if anything went wrong, all she would have to do was call out, and 3-inch thick shutters of Messingite would drop down on both sides.
Jadis was subjected to yet another long wait, though given the circumstances it was inevitable. Even given the release form, getting to see a potentially dangerous (on multiple levels) prisoner- oh, I’m sorry, Resident- always took time, because even in a sturdy setting like that, there was a danger from the resident- and far more danger from the visitor’s litigious lawyer, should anything happen.
The door to the room on the other side of the partition opened and Jadis put her cards away. But apparently while they’d told Jadis a few cryptic things about the situation at that base, they hadn’t told her everything. Despite herself, Jadis paused silently as the person she was there to see sat down in the chair opposite the ‘glass’ partition. Tyler ‘Rockhound’ Collier was a short slight boy; the Wiz Kids’ PR had spun him as the ‘adorkably cute sensitive boy’, in contrast to Tommy Chase’s ‘All-American Bad Boy’ rugged good looks, Hugh Fienberg’s ‘big teddy bear’ charms, and Leonardo Rivera’s classic Argentine gorgeousness. It was, after all, a TV show, and one that pandered heavily to the American Teen market.
The young woman seated across the glass from her was wearing the red scrubs, had a prisoner tracking collar around her neck, restraints that would draw her wrists to the massive belt around her waist and she had Collier’s trademark floppy dark hair- well, allowing for two weeks of growth- but she was at least 4 inches taller than he was, and in general, she might be described as ‘Wonder Girl growing into Wonder Woman’, with the sleek yet powerful physique and strong yet refined features.
Oh, and the fact that she was unquestionably female.
Allowing herself the meager luxury of showing that she was at least a little startled, Jadis bent low and asked through the little ‘tunnel’ that joined them, “Tyler Collier?”
“You were expecting someone… manlier?” the girl shot back with a snotty attitude, that under the circumstances, Jadis could appreciate.
Silently, Jadis reevaluated the Colonel, moving him from ‘tacit obstruction’ to ‘willful accomplice’; not informing her of this development was a deliberate tactic. Getting down to brass tacks, Jadis asked Ty, “Have you spoken about your case to anyone without a lawyer being present?”
“Why? Are you my new public defender?”
“My name is Frost. Jadis Frost.”
“Jadis Frost? Fro… You’re Jadis Diabolik?”
“No,” Jadis kept a strict rein on her temper, “Frost. I go by Frost now.”
‘What…? What do you want with me?” Ty asked, eyeing her suspiciously.
“You’re getting shafted kid. I intend to do something about that.”
“It’s about damn time!” Ty snorted. “I get jumped and shoved into some kind of Mad Science thing and turned into this, and then they start yelling that I killed Leonardo! The guards are giving me all kinds of ‘fess up and get it over with’ tood, my stepfather’s disowned me, Mom does whatever Julian tells her to, God alone knows where my Dad is, the only person from the ship who’s even tried to contact me is Suzy Becker, they won’t let me watch TV or go on the Internet or contact anyone or anything, and nobody will give me anything even LIKE a straight answer about what’s going on!” Then Ty’s eyes narrowed again. “And why do YOU want to help me?”
Jadis briefly recalled her own teenage ‘toods, sighed and started, “There are several reasons. The first is that what they’re doing to you is wrong. There’s a rush to judgment that’s being ridden with spurs. Someone wants you nicely locked away and this whole nasty incident swept under the rug, so they can go back to business as usual. And that’s WRONG. The question isn’t ‘why am I helping you’, it’s ‘why AREN’T the usual parties, which normally would help, stepping up to the plate?’
“The second reason is that I have information that you were set up. And among other things, I’d like to know WHY you were set up. It might be… informative and… advantageous.”
“You have information?” Ty demanded. “Who From?”
Jadis just gave him a ‘you’re supposed to be smarter than that’ glower. “The Third reason is that I’ve been in your position. I know what it feels like to be held prisoner by people who are only too willing to screw you over to suit their own personal agendas, with absolutely no one around who’s even willing to listen to you, let alone help you.”
“You’ve been held prisoner in a depleted indestructiblium bunker with guards in power armor, who make no secret of the fact that they’d regard blowing you to bits as a nice break in their routine?” Tyler demanded rhetorically.
“YES,” Jadis returned with confidence. “The fourth reason is that when they did a blood test on you, they found a massive hit of THX-1157, or ‘Vulcan’ as it’s sometimes called on campus, or ‘Evil Genius’ as the lurid media likes to call it. THX-1157 is a mistake my father made and tried to destroy, but somehow it got out of his lab and made its way into the underground, where it has caused yet more damage that can be put against my family tab. I can’t undo all the damage that my father has intentionally or unintentionally done, but I can do something about this.
“And the fifth reason,” Jadis looked intently into Ty’s eyes, “is that there is something seriously WRONG happening at the Quest Foundation. Their Mission Statement is that they help students with exceptional scientific promise, and assist Pure Research so that it doesn’t have to be shackled to various vested interests. But their last three Yearly Prospectuses have stated that they’ve adopted the policy of ‘running the Foundation like a business’. ‘Running something like a business’ generally means ‘whoring out for the Bottom Line’. The world needs organizations like the Quest Foundation to goose along research that doesn’t promise immediate obscene profits; the world really does not need yet another organization dedicated to squeezing naïve young geniuses until their eyes pop out.”
“You see that?” Ty asked, her cynicism slipping for a moment. “I thought that that was just me being an idealistic kid; that being effective in the marketplace required stuff like Korman was pulling.”
“Kid, that’s what the rats-asses of the world always want you to think,” Jadis said wearily. “That if it doesn’t boil down to money, it’s not worth doing. That racism is just the way the world works. That swindling locals is just progress in action. That taking everything and leaving nothing for anyone else is just the Strong overcoming the Weak, as they always have. Ty, if we let them, the rats-asses, both the ones wearing sinister supervillain outfits and the ones wearing Armani suits, would boil the entire human race down for tallow and then complain that there wasn’t anyone to buy it.”
But then Ty’s cynicism slid back into place. “And you’re going to do this out of the goodness of your heart? Just because your father’s smart drug was involved?”
Jadis shook her head. “No. While I may not adhere to Milo Minderbinder’s dictum that money is worth anything, I don’t indulge in the conceit that money is dirty either. If you’re not making money, then you’re losing money. The deaths on the Diogenes open the doors to certain opportunities that I intend to take advantage of, even as I intend to facilitate a few badly needed policy- and leadership- changes at the Quest Foundation.”
Jadis locked eyes with Ty. “And you’re not getting off scot-free either. If I can get you out from under this, you owe me a Solid.”
“A favor?” Ty honked. “You’re going to get me out of here, and all you want is a Favor?”
“NO,” Jadis said heavily, “Not a ‘favor’- a favor is ‘can I borrow your hedge clippers’ or ‘would you watch little Timmy for a few hours’ or ‘would you go see if my back door is locked?’ A Solid is a commitment, a blank check for one service, no matter what, no matter when, no matter where. With a Solid, you could be just ready to get married, but when I call in the marker, you drop that, get on a plane to Sierra Leone, pick up a WWI Garand rifle loaded with live ammunition and wade into the trenches for a live-fire reenactment of the Battle of the Somme, complete with trench foot and dysentery.”
Ty looked at Jadis uncertainly as the ramifications of that sank in.
Jadis said, “You’re thinking that as unpleasant as it is, it’ll only be five years until you’re released and your prison record as a minor is sealed. Your academic career is ruined, but you’re a genius; you’ll find a way to make a good life for yourself. And the powers you’ve gained won’t exactly hurt. The problem with that is that the Diogenes was in international waters when Leonardo Rivera died, and Rivera was an Argentine citizen.”
“Jurisdiction for crimes committed on American ships in international waters depends on the nationalities of the ship’s registration, the accused and the victims. Involuntary Experimentation on a human being is a Civil Rights Violation, and is legally regarded as Abduction and Mayhem, which are Felonies. A death that results from Involuntary Experimentation is automatically kicked up to Murder in the First Degree.”
“Murder?” Ty squeaked.
“Murder. Normally, a crime committed in international waters would be the jurisdiction of the Federal Courts, but prosecuting Murders are the bailiwick of the State Courts, so the case would be remanded to the courts of whatever state the victim was a citizen of. BUT, as I said, Rivera was an Argentine citizen. You’ll be tried for Involuntary Experimentation and Civil Rights Abuses in the American Federal Courts, and then extradited to Argentina, where you’ll be tried for First Degree Murder, using the records of your previous trials in the US as a basis.”
“Argentina?” Ty gulped.
“Well, Argentina’s shaped up a lot since they pushed the Junta out of power,” Jadis allowed. “But Rivera was a real point of national pride in Argentina, what with him being a big genius as well as being almost an exemplar of young Argentine manhood, all displayed on international TV. The fact that you are accused of having killed Rivera by using him as an experimental subject so that you could alter yourself in an Unauthorized Experiment, and that you gained superhuman powers as a result will be held against you in both courts. The fact that you changed sex won’t help.”
Ty looked stricken and let out a loud gulp.
“The second that you get on a plane for Buenos Ares, as far as everyone north of the Rio Grande is concerned, you fell off the face of the Earth. Which is pretty much what whoever’s pulling the strings in this wants.”
“I didn’t know that you were a lawyer,” Ty said.
“I’m not,” Jadis admitted. “I haven’t even finished my Master’s degree at Waterhouse in New York; my, ah, activities keep cutting into my study schedule. Rather, I’m acting as an agent for a real lawyer, and I mean ‘real lawyer’ in every sense of the word.” She reached into a pocket and produced a business card, which she scooted through the tunnel to Ty.
“J. Parkinson Dunmore?”
“He’s my personal lawyer, and he was my guardian growing up, and far more to the point, he’s a major reason why, despite the very real efforts of several powerful and influential parties, I’m still at large. He is to legal maneuvering what Steve Jobs was to marketing,” Jadis said proudly. “With Parky in your corner, you may not be as good as free, but your chances of just getting quietly flushed go down to zero.”
“How much does he charge?”
“Oh WAY more than you could ever hope to pay normally,” Jadis said. “Parky is very connected. BUT, like a lot of lawyers who’ve made it big, he feels an obligation to the finer aspects of Justice, and he’s willing to take you on Pro Bono- oh, and for a big honking slice of what you’ll get in the settlement for the lawsuit that Parky’s already blocking out for you. As soon as you sign on with him, Parky’s ready to get you moved out from the Red Silo over to the Yellow Silo, get you something to read and a laptop, and get you more sessions with the Physical Rehab therapists they have.”
“Yellow Silo?” Ty asked, confused.
“Yeah, this place is Camp LeMay, a repurposed First Response missile silo from the days of the nuclear stalemate with the Soviets. As you’ve figured out, they removed the nuke and rebuilt the interior. This is part of what’s called Project Square One, a joint effort by the Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services. They’re sharing the base and splitting the costs, and letting the Air Force run security, ‘cause they still technically own the base. The Red Silo is basically a reform school for super-powered juveniles, the kids who get super powers and the first thing they do is knock off a bank, ‘cause that’s what supervillains do, right? They set up shop here in the godforsaken Arctic so the juvies won’t use their super powers to escape. I mean, take one look around and you know that trying to leave on your own is a BAD idea. The Yellow Silo is run by DHHS as a place to help kids ages 8-to-18 get a grip on superpowers they can’t control. If a kid gets bit by a radioactive gerbil, or bonds with a dynamorph or survives getting experimented on or whatever, but they can’t control those powers, they bring them up here. It’s nice and isolated, so they don’t have to worry about the neighbors. They have doctors and therapists and counselors and the whole nine yards, and their emphasis is teaching the kid to control their powers and not be a threat to anyone, with a hefty helping of ‘you’re not a monster’.”
Ty sat back and gave Jadis a very sour look.
“Let me guess- this is the first that you’ve heard of this,” Jadis said wryly. Tyler gave a brisk nod with a bitter scowl on her face. “Have you at least seen a therapist to get a handle on your strength?” Tyler shook her head. “Oh, Parky is gonna have a field day with that Colonel,” Jadis sighed.
“The thing the really pisses me off is that it’s so STUPID!” Tyler spat out. “I’m a GEOLOGIST! I’m about minerals and composition and pressure! I know that I don’t know enough about neurology to try and cobble together a Malice Upgrade forced adaptation chamber out of scavenged bits and pieces! I’m a genius, but I know my limits! I know better than to muck around with the human nervous system, let alone MY OWN!”
Jadis let out a derisive snicker. “Sweetheart, I know several geniuses, and most of them are absolutely brilliant in their field and chugging along at half a load in anyone else’s. I could write a book- if I could find anyone who’d publish it- about my brother Mal’s brainfarts, let alone Jobe’s-”
“Jobe?” Tyler interrupted her, “You know Princess Jobe?”
Ah, the power of celebrity… “I’ve known Jobe since he was only the prince of his own diapers. And even then he was a little tyrant.” Jadis opened her smartphone and beamed onto the glass a JPEG of her and ‘Princess’ Jobe along with a few Drow hangers-on at a minor function, where through quick thinking and fast action, Jadis had managed to reduce a potential diplomatic incident into a couple of embarrassing inches in the New York gossip columns. Then Jadis cycled through a series of pictures of Jadis with various noteworthies, starting with Jobe and working her way until-
“What? You know Reach Sawyer?”
“Oh Harley? Yes, I’ve known Harley for years.”
“But… Reach is a COP!”
“And I’m not? Tyler, not only do I know Harley Sawyer, but I knew her before she was on NYPD’s Special Crimes unit. I’ve done some favors for her, and she’s done some favors for me. We are both on each other’s ‘good risk’ list for extending ourselves. As a matter of fact, I helped Harley solve her first case. I didn’t solve it for her; I just gave her a few informed pointers from the supervillain’s perspective.”
“Well… okay…” Ty drawled uncertainly, “but what good can this Dunmore guy do? Like you said, the fix is in. They’re just going through the steps before they rubber stamp my one-way visa to Argentina!”
“No,” Jadis disagreed, “the fix isn’t in YET. It could be, and someone’s pulling strings to put it in, but the fix ain’t quite in. That just means that someone wants to put you away, but it’s not a slam-bang-done-deal. This means that if we look fast and smart, we may be able to find out what the hell is really going on. Which brings me back to my original question: have you had any real talks with anyone without the benefit of legal counsel?”
“No,” Tyler said with a ‘what, are you nuts?’ tone. “That’s one of the first things you learn about the Legal System: ‘Shut up and Lawyer up’. Like they say on TV- ‘anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of Law’.”
“Tyler,” Jadis chuckled, “you just may be as smart as they say you are. You’d be amazed at how many allegedly intelligent people don’t get that simple rule.”
“Okay, the two FBI guys who questioned me first tried to rattle my cage, but seriously! They could have had ‘Good Cop’ and ‘Bad Cop’ in superscript over their heads! They said that the Attorney General already had enough to put me away forever, but he was willing to cut a deal and go easy if I confessed.” Tyler paused and looked aggrieved. “They didn’t say a damn thing about Argentina.”
“And they wouldn’t have, until you were down in Buenos Ares, and they walked you into a reinforced concrete room and told you that that was where you were going to spend the rest of your life,” Jadis confirmed.
“Sooo… if this Dunmore guy is such hot shit, how do I get him to be my lawyer?” Tyler asked. “I mean, the closest that I’ve gotten to any information about what’s going on is that so far I’ve had three Federal Public Defenders and two panel lawyers all call me and tell me that they’re handling my case and that everything’s going to be okay, and that’s the last I heard of it until the next Federal Defender or whatever showed up.”
“I hear the distinctive sounds of screws being turned,” Jadis said. “Ironically, this will make it easier for Parky to step in. Your case is a real hot potato, so no one will bitch very loud when you request a specific counsel to take over. Normally, we’d need your parents’ signature, but due to the fact that your stepfather has officially disowned you and your natural father is MIA, you’re a Ward of the State. Still, you’re 16, so while you don’t have the full franchise, you’re still seen as competent enough that your wishes in this matter are a consideration. And from there, Parky will take over, and God help the poor chump who gets in his way.”
Jadis took an official looking form from her purse and pushed it down the ‘tunnel’ to Tyler. Then she shoved a pen at Tyler. “That’s the official request for specific counsel form. Just read it over, initial the specific clauses, sign and date, and when I fax that to Washington from the office, Parky will be your lawyer of record.”
Tyler nodded and looked over the form. Jadis nodded with approval when Tyler read the entire thing through three times over, and asked a few intelligent questions about specific clauses. Then Tyler picked up the pen-
-which broke in her hand.
“Fortunately, I saw that coming.” Jadis passed another pen down the hole, which was a felt-tip pen within a sturdy metal holder, a pad of paper tissues and a pad of paper. “Make a few practice runs first.” And Tyler needed that practice because even as durable as felt-tip is, she mashed it the first couple of times. But the document was signed and legible, if less than tidy.
Jadis took the document to the office, faxed it to New York and returned, the whole thing having taken maybe 15 minutes. “So, when will I meet Mr. Dunmore?” Tyler asked.
“In person?” Jadis answered, “Not until after you get out. The only time that Parky leaves New York these days is to go to Daytona Beach in February. Alaska, especially this part of Alaska, even in summer? Not happening. But you can expect your first video conference in a few days. It’ll take a few days for the paperwork to process, for objections to be made, for various august personages to act like spoiled children, for documents to get lost and found and like all that. Trust me, Parky has been doing this for 40 years, and he knows dodges that even the Father of Liars can’t get around.”
Tyler nodded that she understood. “Okay, now that that’s signed and sealed, there’s a level of confidentiality. There’s something that Parky wanted to know, straight from you, ASAP: Like I told you, when they did the blood test on you, they found a massive concentration of THX-1157. Some of the people pushing the idea that you tested the Malice Upgrade on Rivera are claiming that you did it in a fit of THX-induced Sociopathy. Were you doing THX?”
“NO,” Tyler said definitively. Then there was a tense pause and she amended, “I tried it ONCE, three years ago, just to see what it was like. It performed as advertised, with the really scary levels of recall and comprehension and all that hoo-hah. But it took me to places that I really didn’t like, even when I was still tripping on it. Afterwards, I had notes for doing things that were just plain WRONG! I mean, I don’t like Julian, I’ve never made any bones about that, but what I was working out was… there are things you just don’t DO to people!” Jadis arched an inquiring eyebrow. “And NO, I never did any THX, either 1138 or 1157, after that. Period.” Tyler squirmed uncomfortably and then admitted. “Okay, I’ve done a little Solon-5, but only to get me over the real high-stress spots, y’know, to avoid burnout. Your father’s products are very popular on campus.”
“Underground, at least,” Jadis acknowledged. “Have you experienced any lingering effects from the THX?”
Tyler scrunched up her face. “Yeah. Not all the time. But every so often, especially when I’m really mad or frustrated- and that happens a lot in here, I sort of go off into… like… a watered-down version of the THX mind-state. My recollection of things that I only saw in passing years ago is almost perfect, and bits and pieces from all over the place come together. I’m very cold, very calm, very rational, no distractions, everything pared down to its most basic components, everything in terms of the project at hand, people are reduced to being… chemical components- this component at this temperature added to that component at that temperature at this pressure in these increments- like that. it’s kinda like… y’know those fight scene in those Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes movies, where he sort of slips out of the fight, maps the whole thing out, anticipates his opponents’ reactions, calculates the damage and how it will affect the fight, and like that? Only I calculate exactly how I’m gonna get out of here.”
“You think about how to escape from here?”
“As a matter of fact, YES! This means that a visitor is coming, that means that a group of guards are going on furlough, the other means that supplies that can’t be air-dropped are being delivered. Prep this, this, that and the other beforehand. Remove tracking collar, exploit predictable textbook responses, switch outfit for guard’s uniform, highjack a suit of Watchdog power armor this way, commandeer vehicle there, take vehicle to this point, allow the vehicle to continue. Then proceed to this point and hijack a transport truck, proceed east-by-southeast into the Yukon. I have five other basic schemes. Thinking about it is one of the things keeping me sane.”
“Then why don’t you leave?”
“Because it would require that I kill at least two people, and risk crippling two more. And, now that I know about Project Square One, my doing so would jeopardize the continued existence of the Yellow Silo program, and I get the impression that those kids NEED to be helped. And beyond that, I’d be a fugitive, and worse than that I’d become a killer. I’m not a killer, Miss D-er, Frost, and I don’t see a way out of this that doesn’t require that I kill at least one person. Or, at least, I don’t see it, because in that state, other people’s lives are not a factor. One of the schemes I’ve got has me triggering an explosion that forces a mass evacuation of the base, which I exploit to escape. Miss Frost… I don’t wanna DO that!”
“How long do these fugue states last?”
“I’m not 100% sure, but I get the impression that they last two minutes, three minutes tops?”
“Are you functional in these fugue states?”
“Yeah, but like I said, they only last for a few minutes or so. And I realize that there’s no way that I can do anything material in that time, so I just do the most effective long-term thing, which is plan.”
“Interesting.” Jadis made a note. “Okay, off that possibly compromising tangent… let’s get down to the basic questions: Tyler, who on the Diogenes would have a reason to want to frame or even kill you?”
Tyler shrugged, and said, “No idea. I mean, I’m not universally beloved or anything, but on the other hand, I get along okay.”
“Really? From what I got from the episodes that I Hulu’d on the planes to Anchorage and Nome, you were sort of like everybody’s little buddy.”
Tyler gave a shamefaced nod. “That’s mostly Lennox- he’s the show’s director and main camera wrangler- putting a mass market spin on it. He sort of had to, ‘cause I got the sex appeal of a lump of feldspar.” Jadis gave an amused snerk; Tyler had a solid female following on the show, and there would probably be considerable wailing and gnashing of teeth when it came out what had happened to the boy. Tyler gave Jadis a ‘what?” oblivious look, and continued, “Leonardo was the guy with the real sex appeal. But he was a right guy, despite that. He could have played every girl on the ship, even Dr. Chase, but their first week on the same boat, he and Suzy Becker were, like *boom!* total sweethearts. And after Leo, there was Hugh Fienberg. Man, did he have charisma! And it showed on camera! And-” Tyler’s eyes went wide and her face went slack. “oh crap…”
“It just occurred to me. Hughie Fienberg.”
“You think that Hugh Fienberg has some reason to want to set you up?”
“No… he’s dead. That’s the problem.”
“Hugh Fienberg is dead?” Jadis asked. “When did this happen?”
“About two and half months ago. They haven’t told anyone about it, because the Foundation was hammering out how to work it for as much drama as they could without being macabre about it- not that that’s how they worded it, but still…” Tyler retrenched and restarted. “Look, about three months ago, one of those old ‘supervillain hideout’ islands that sank back in the 1960s very quietly rose up again. I’d been pestering the foundation to do a submarine survey of one of those islands, to try and figure out how the hell they DID that. Back in the 1960s, it almost seemed like someone was running a business in building these teeny little postage stamp islands, just so that mad scientists, supervillains and those funky acronym crime syndicates could put up secret bases on them. They’d last for a few years, and then *sploosh!* Down to the bottom of the ocean. There’s been some work in Japan recently to replicate that, but the only one who’s done anything major is that asshole ‘Emperor Wilkins’ and that freaky ‘Karedon-eee… oh crap, you know Emperor Wilkins, don’t you?”
“Yes,” Jadis said with a sideways smirk. “And could I tell YOU stories!”
Tyler absorbed that, shook her head and continued. “Anyway, La Isla Maldito, one of those sunken islands in the Lesser Antilles, just quietly rose, and the Quest Foundation was asked to look into what was going on, ‘cause the Venezuelans really wanted to know, and what the hell, it would probably make for some killer TV. We did a preliminary survey with orbital imaging and drones-” Tyler paused, visibly went over what she was going to say, waved aside several layers of technicality and exposition, and then just waved it all away. “Cutting to the chase: Supervillains, James Bond climax, we all scramble to the Zodiacs, but… Hughie got caught in the blast and he was knocked out of the air. He landed wrong in the water. We’re still not sure whether it was the broken neck or drowning that did him in.
“Hughie… he was one of the good ones,” Tyler said bleakly. “They don’t let mutts on the Diogenes… okay, maybe Logan, but they gotta have one loudmouthed asshole on every show, it’s like a Reality TV rule or something. But Hughie… he knew how to shine without crowding everyone else out, the way that Tommy and Linda do. When he was explaining Engineering stuff, he was more like a big kid showing off his toys than a scientist. We used to joke that Bill Nye the Science Guy had a contract out on Hughie, ‘cause he was scared that Hughie would muscle him out of the Pop-Sci TV market. Nobody shared the spotlight like Hughie…” Tyler let out a forlorn sigh.
“Yeah, from what I saw of your shows, you and he had some serious Laurel and Hardy going on.” Tyler gave Jadis a blank ‘Laurel and Hardy?’ look of non-comprehension. Jadis waved that aside. “But from what I saw, you and Hughie were buds! Why would anyone hold him dying against you?”
“Well, you gotta understand, the Isla Maldito thing was my show all the way. I was the one who’d been pestering the Foundation to do a show on those stupid sunken supervillain islands, I did all the prep work, I got the lion’s share of the screen time, I was the big hero who figured out how to escape from the villain’s lair, I’m the one who gets credit for snagging their bozo-tech gizmo… it was my big day in the sun. I was all over the place, so there’s no way that they could re-cut the show without me, or anyone could steal my thunder. Not that Tom and Linda didn’t try.”
“And you think that someone might hold the fact that you were going to gain so much credit, while Hugh died, against you?”
Tyler gave a wide ‘who knows?’ shrug. “It’s the only thing that I can think of! I mean, for the most part, I’m the guy holding the others’ bags.”
“Possibly, someone might think that you and Leonardo were the major threats to them winning?”
Tyler gave a definitive shake of her head ‘No’. “Not a chance. ‘Wiz Kids’ isn’t a competition/elimination show, where everyone is trying to beat out everyone else, and there are bul-er, bogus ‘challenges’ and ‘dares’ and ‘time outs’ and all that other crap that Survivor-type shows do. It’s more like that old show, the Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau. Really, the only ‘elimination’ is when a kid is invited to return for the next season or not.”
“Yes, but you’re competing for the various Quest Foundation scholarships and prize money,” Jadis pointed out. “I mean, the Quartermass Prize is $50 thousand a year for six years. That’s over a quarter of a million dollars, which is still a lot of money!”
“Yeah, but you have to ‘graduate’, be on the show for four years to get that,” Tyler countered. “And the Quartermass Prize is only the most prestigious of the Q-Grants, so it’s not ‘winner take all’. And even those graduates who took the minor scholarships were green-lighted for scholarships from other foundations. And the status of having ‘graduated’ from the Diogenes is a major foot in the door to most of the best universities in the country. Heck, really the show is designed to avoid all the tacky ‘Competition Show’ melodramatics, and focus on being a showcase for the new developments in Science in an active setting.”
“How very ‘grant proposal’,” Jadis smirked. “I noticed that the aversion to ‘tacky melodramatics’ doesn’t cover shipboard romances, heated rivalries, and the occasional dust-up with criminals, monsters, terrorists and supervillains.”
“I have no idea how that happens,” Tyler said with complete honesty. “It’s been like that ever since the first season, when it was ‘Diogenes Quest’. And to be honest, for the past few years, it’s like the creeps come looking for the ship!” Jadis gave Tyler an odd look at that. Tyler waved that aside and said, “To be honest, I think that both Leonardo and I were chosen either because we were the best test subjects or we were just the easiest ones to grab at the time.”
“Sensible,” Jadis allowed with a nod. “Okay then, let’s focus on the experiment itself. Both you and Leonardo were injected with the nanite complex for the Malice Upgrade- without the mind control sequence- and strapped into cobbled-together forced adaptation chambers. The most logical source of the Malice complex is Dr. Helen Chase, the Mission Leader on the Diogenes.”
“Yeah, ‘Mission Leader’ sounds so much better than ‘Den Mother’,” Tyler quipped. “But yeah, it was a real shock to wake up, look in the mirror and see a teenage knock-off of Dr. Chase.”
“Is there any chance that Dr. Chase was the one who jumped you and shoved you in the oven? I mean, she’s very strong; lifting a 170 lb guy like Rivera would have been like carrying around a kitten for her, let alone a shrimp like you.”
Tyler shook her head with absolute conviction. “NO. No way. First of all, Dr. Chase has a very strong maternal instinct, and she regards the Wiz Kids as her personal responsibility.”
“No kidding,” Jadis snickered. “Some of your shows scan like one of those cheesy old superhero shows where the entire plot is maneuvering the sidekicks to where the hero has to come save them.”
“You can blame Lennox for that,” Tyler said. “He’s always trying to ‘spice things up’ a little, despite the fact with some of the things we’re working with, that could get us killed. Him, I could see doing it. Dr. Chase? Not a chance. Dr. Chase and I have always gotten along; even if she was willing to do that to one of her kids, I can’t conceive of her doing it to me. And even if she was ruthless enough to do it, and has some reason to try and retro-engineer the complex, she’d do it under safe, legal, ethical conditions, and she wouldn’t do it on the boat! She’s just not that reckless!”
“Okay, speaking of reckless, whoever did it somehow reconfigured the Malice Upgrade, so they have some kind of access to Dr. Chase to gain samples,” Jadis pointed out. “What about her son, Tommy? He’s certainly reckless enough to do it, and his file says that he has already has Bachelor’s degrees in Organic Chemistry and Physics, and an Associate degree in Engineering, and he’s very big on being an ‘All-Purpose Scientist’.”
Tyler nodded, “Yeah, he’s reckless enough, and God knows, he’d love to be the one to come running to save the day instead of his Mom. But it couldn’t be Tom; if Tom was going to go over to the Dark Side, he’d give a press announcement and podcast throwing the switch. And then pitch a fit if Linda got more hits than he did.”
Jadis chuckled, but accepted the point. “Okay, what about Logan Hogan? And really… Logan Hogan?”
“What can I say?” Tyler shrugged, “Parents can be cruel!”
“Okay, what about Logan Hogan? Besides being THE Chemistry Whiz Kid with a Masters, Hogan already has Bachelors in Physics and Biology, and he has a shown interest in Nanotechnology. And he’s a dab hand with jury-rigging stuff on the fly; a couple of the shows I watched had him McGyvering things like high-explosives, an incendiary and a capture adhesive out of cleaning compounds and cooking oils. And he showed an intense interest in the blood samples they got from Rivera.”
“Yeah, and he wrote a scathing critique of the adjustments to the compound,” Tyler said. “He’s the obvious suspect: he’s got the temperament and the skills. But there are three problems: first, he’s simply not that ruthless.”
“Whoever did it has access to THX-1157; any chance that Hogan could be dosing himself to keep up his grades?”
Tyler shook her head. “Again, he’s the first guy that you’d suspect. But no, Logan’s like that all the time. I’ve met his parents, the Tiger Mom and Dad from Hell, and they’re just like that. Besides, I happen to know that Logan’s doing Solon-5, like me, to keep the stress from getting to him, and as we’ve seen the two compounds have some nasty interactions.”
“How do you know that?”
“Who do you think my supplier is? By the way, he’s a huge fan of your father’s.” Jadis made an annoyed grunt at that, and Tyler quickly got off that tangent. “Second, while Logan is an egomaniac, he actually has the skills to back it up; his testing methodology is flawless and his workspace is impeccable. The welding on the adaptation chamber was… competent… workmanlike… but uneven and sloppy in spots. But Logan’s welding is always neat as a pin. The only welder on the ship better than Logan is Suzy, and she’s a Hydrologist. Her projects have to work under extreme pressure, so her welds have to be perfect the first time, every time. There was a lot of re-welding on the chamber that I looked at. And the reason we found the chamber with Leo inside it is that it popped a weld, some of the nutrient solution overflowed and overloaded a circuit, which caused a blackout.”
“Which happened the time with you, as well,” Jadis mused. “And the third thing?”
“Logan’s obsessed with getting into MIT. Not CalTech. Not Stanford. Not UC-Berkeley. Not Princeton. Not Cornell. Not even Harvard: MIT. Logan would never do anything that would even possibly diminish his chances of getting into MIT. If it came down to choosing between the Quartermass Prize and getting into MIT, Logan would jump off the boat in the middle of the ocean and swim to Boston.”
“And that takes care of the three obvious suspects,” Jadis sighed.
“And the fourth obvious suspect has an alibi,” Tyler added. “Linda Havoc has the recklessness and the skills- she’s another ‘All-Purpose Scientist’, with Bachelors in Engineering and Biology, and she’s super competitive, especially with Tom Chase, so upgrading herself with his mother’s nano-suite would be one-up on him forever. BUT, she had a perfect alibi for when Leo died: she was with Suzy Becker. And there’s no way that Suzy would cover for whoever killed Leo.”
“How real was that?”
“Which one? Tom and Linda, or Leo and Suzy?”
“Oh, both of ‘em, real as hell,” Tyler assured her. “Tom and Linda are both dyed-in-the-wool gloryhounds, both spotlight hogs, both competitive as hell, especially with each other. Half of the weird crap that happens to us is because either Tom or Linda are trying to one-up the other or be the big hero. If this was a movie, they’d wind up in bed together. Or married.”
“Or married and then in bed together,” Jadis said puckishly. “Or in bed together and then married.”
“Yeah, it doesn’t help that Lennox encourages it,” Tyler sighed. “Come to think of it, Lennox has to know more than he’s letting on. Even when we’re not working on projects, he has cameras and drones running, for all that ‘behind the scenes drama’ crud. He’s GOT to be sitting on some footage. I’m not sure what he intends to do with it, but he knows something.”
Jadis was about to say something when her cell phone beeped. “Fnark,” she muttered disgustedly. “Look, Tyler, I hate to do this to you, but I have to get. The cargo plane that brought me will not wait for me, the next cargo run is seven days from now, and staying in a place like this, even for one night, is the stuff of some of my worst nightmares. I have 10 minutes- plus time allowed for bureaucratic idiocy- to get to my plane.”
Tyler sighed. “I wish that I didn’t know exactly where you’re coming from.”
“Okay, this last bit is very important, Tyler. You can’t just sit back and let Parky and me take care of everything. You have to take an active part in this?”
“Even as we speak, Parky’s kicking some serious ass to get you transferred over to the Yellow Silo. When you get there, you’ll be issued a special high-impact resistant laptop. We’re gonna arrange for files to be sent to you from the investigation. I want you do go over every file, picture, video clip and CSI schematic for both incidents, and spot whatever it is that we’re not picking up on.”
“You’re kidding,” Tyler said in a flat disbelieving voice. “The old ‘accused man proves his innocence’ trope doesn’t work, because everything that he comes up with would be considered suspect!”
“Only if it was physical evidence,” Jadis corrected her. “You won’t be handling evidence, you’ll be looking at copies of files, so there’s no way for you to alter or contaminate the originals. “ Jadis looked at her intently. “Tyler, you’ve lived on that boat for two years. You know it a lot better than the FBI guys. You know those kids. You’ve lived with them, you’ve eaten with them, you’ve fought alongside them, you flat-out fought them, you’ve worked with them, you’ve worked against them, so you know how they think. The odds are that one of the seven remaining students on the Diogenes is the culprit, and we can’t wait for the FBI to get off their duffs and actually do a real investigation.
“There’s a routine 6-week period for people like you to get used to their new powers, before anything is really done. It gives you a chance to not be a threat to society, and it gives them a breather to figure out what they’re gonna do. It’s a little dodgy constitutionally, but it gives everyone involved some time to figure things out and come to a deal, so nobody complains that much.
“So starting right now, you’ve got about roughly a month to figure out what really happened, and find something to derail the railroading they’re trying to pull. This isn’t Perry Mason, so you don’t have to figure out who really did it. You just have to find something that proves that YOU didn’t do it, or discredits the theory that the Quest Foundation is pushing, or just gets the FBI to wake up and do a real investigation.
“And, more than that, you’ve got to do something for your own sake. Besides being bored out of your mind, you’ve lost too much. You’re used to being a little coddled because you’re this big genius. But now you’ve lost your manhood, your identity, and everyone’s yelling that you’re a murderer. You’ve got to prove to yourself, on a real gut level, that you rescued yourself. Yes, I know that your rational mind knows that you can only be expected to do so much, but I’m talking about that part of you that makes up a lot more of who you are than your rational mind. I’m afraid that you’ll become institutionalized; that you’ll learn helplessness. No matter what they’re supposed to do, places like this are very good at breaking people, and turning them into docile, helpless cogs in the machine. Tyler, what good would it do us to bust our asses getting you out of here, if the part of you that’s really… YOU stays permanently in jail? It happens kid. I don’t think that it’s happened yet. But it could. So, fight it, in the only way that you can, without cutting your own throat. Figure out what really happened. You’re not a damsel in distress; save yourself.”
Tyler sat back and absorbed that for a moment. Then a glint of steel entered her eyes. “Right.”
“Good!” And with that, Jadis hurried to the door. Just as she was out the door, a dark cloud formed under her feet, and she zipped out of sight.
‘And I thought my life was weird before…” Tyler thought.
Jadis made it past the red tape tangle just in time to get onto the cargo plane. As the plane started its props for its VTOL takeoff, she looked at the stark bare base, just bits and pieces of concrete poking out of the tundra, and let out a rattling breath. “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”
While it did take a day to get transferred over to the Yellow Silo, there was one change that happened almost immediately. Before, Tyler only had access to the Red Silo’s library. Their selection hovered between ‘puerile’ and ‘abysmal’, given that the books had to be printed on special hard-to-destroy paper, with steel-lined hard covers. But when she got to her cell, Tyler was told that she now had access to the Yellow Silo library, and Dr. Prado, the head therapist, had given her access to the Orange Silo library, in consideration of her advanced reading habits. The Orange Silo offered basically the same services as the Yellow Silo, only to adults, age 21+. Checking out the selection, Tyler chose a copy of The Complete Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. She didn’t expect the classic detective stories to really teach her anything, but it would at least get her in the right headspace. While she waited. And waited. And waited.
Tyler was reading The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge when a guard came to her door and advised her that it was time to relocate to the Yellow Silo. Procedure being procedure, and only less vital than air in prison, Tyler was escorted out of the Red Silo by two guards in Watchdog power armor, through a long corridor, to the door to the Yellow Silo. The clunky battle frames were slow but extremely tough, and they carried two rapidfire autoweapons, one of which fired stun rounds, the other of which fired armor piercing rounds. Tyler was allowed in, and welcomed by the first genuinely friendly face that she had seen in weeks.
Leslie, the physical therapist that had been assigned to Tyler, was an attractive African-American woman in her mid-to-late 20s. She had a pleasant face, and Ty got the impression that she had a reasonable figure. She couldn’t tell under the draping impact-biased padded outfit that Leslie was wearing. Leslie’s expression suggested that the reason for the armor wasn’t that she was afraid of Ty, as so much that, well, the entire point of the place was that accidents happen.
“Well, the good news is that uncontrolled super-strength is pretty common and relatively easily treated,” Leslie said. “It’s basically a matter of getting your reflexes retrained. It’ll be boring, and kinda frustrating for the first week or so, but once the place where your muscles and your brain meet gets the idea that things have changed, you’ll start to pick up quickly.” The preliminary tests, which Leslie said should have been done weeks ago, were mostly very simple: lifting weights, pushing at a bar, picking up balls made of layers of materials of different hardness so as to measure Ty’s grip, stacking blocks of various weights, being jabbed by a needle at different settings of force, and like that.
When Tyler was done, Leslie told her that she was pressing 5.5 tons, with a grip strength of between 700 and 900 pounds, and was resisting 300 lbs of force applied to an area the size of a nail-tip. “Your reflexes are seriously off, and your control of- or lack of control- your upper-reach strength is well within the ‘danger to the general public’ range. Tyler, I’d say that you’ve got a 50/50 chance of having it down into the ‘occasional embarrassing accident’ range by the time your 6 weeks are up.”
“And then I go back over to the Red Silo?”
“If that happens, then our physical therapy sessions will continue. If not, you have the option of staying, or finding alternative therapy elsewhere. But I’m afraid that we’re going to have to concentrate on your physical re-education; I’m not really sure how to deal with the whole… new sex thing. I mean, we’ve dealt with it before, but… we just handled getting used to the new powers stuff, not the social reorientation part. But for right now, let’s concentrate on getting you safe for the general public.”
Ty wondered if just meekly going along with this plan would fall under the heading of ‘becoming a cog in the machine’. Well, Leslie was very nice, but on a real level, she was telling Tyler to be a good girl and just do what she was told. “Yeah, that’s nice, but I’m in a position where I have some serious homework to do. I was told that a special impact-resistant laptop was waiting for me, and I have internet access?”
Leslie gave an annoyed sigh and gave Tyler an arch look. “Yes, but do you really think that you’re going to find something that the FBI overlooked?”
“From what my lawyer- or at least my lawyer’s agent- tells me, the FBI didn’t really look. Leaving this to the cops is pretty much the same as signing a confession. Just sitting back and being a good bo- er, whatever, simply is NOT in the cards for me.”
Leslie shrugged and said, “Okay, but be warned- we only have so many of those things, and your fine control could batter it into rubble, reinforcing or not. So, let me introduce you to the very cutting edge of hyper-dyne rehabilitation technology!” She held up two thin sticks.
“Chopsticks?” Tyler asked with a ‘are you kidding me?’ honk.
“These sticks are made of a memory plastic that bends a specific degree when a specific amount of pressure is placed on them. Enough for you to make mistakes without wrecking things, but not enough to make eating messy. No matter how much you bend them they will re-straighten. AND, when you’re done, you’ll look like a pro the next time you eat Szechuan.” She handed him the chopsticks. “You have to practice with these for an hour before you get the laptop.” Tyler took the chopsticks and tried to remember the simple yet annoyingly hard to master mechanism for holding and using chopsticks.
“But before you get into that, there are some people you should meet.”
Tyler winced at the thought of facing the Press looking like that. Then she had the uncomfortable insight that maybe she’d been swimming in the hyper-media-saturated world of the Wiz Kids too long, always having to think about how something might look to the cameras. Besides stirring up shit between the Wiz Kids, Lennox loved to catch them at awkward moments. Leslie walked her out of the testing room into a much larger, much more comfortable common room, where two teenage boys were hanging out, combining doing homework with watching TV and doing something on tablets. Other than the yellow coveralls and the backpack unit with cables that led to bracers on his wrists, the first of them could have been any late high-school age Anglo guy from anywhere in the US or Canada. The other guy looked like a ‘Mini-Me’ for the Incredible Hulk, only without the green skin. His physique was grossly over-developed, and his face had a puffy, swollen look. His hair was dark, his skin had a swarthy tone, and his nose, lips and ears were absolutely huge, but past that, Ty had no idea as to what ethnicity the boy might be. They looked up from their homework (or more to the point, tablets) with the usual mild disinterest, which snapped to when they spotted Tyler. “We have a new arrival,” Leslie stated the obvious. “Ray, would you find Luke? Jake, go get Mike.”
Ray, the guy in the backpack went off. Jake, the swollen-looking guy went down a short hall and gave a thundering knock on a door. He stopped after the first knock and then gave another few knocks on a plate set into the doorsill. Leslie told Tyler to stay there, and went off down another short hall. A few minutes later Ray returned with a boy in yellow coveralls who looked to be maybe 10 or 11 years old. The boy had a blanket tied around his neck. Jake returned with a boy maybe Tyler’s age, wearing what looked like an overdeveloped football helmet on his head. Leslie returned with two girls, one of who looked a little older than the younger boy, and the other looked about the same age as Tyler or the boy with the football helmet. The older girl was wearing what appeared to be football armor over her coveralls.
“As you can see we have someone new come to stay with us for a while.” Leslie started. “Let’s start with the youngest. Tyler, this is-”
“I am THE PULSE!” the boy said portentously, striking a superheroic pose. “Mighty defender of Justice and Rightness! And this is MITTENS! Mistress of Making things MELT! And the INCREDIBLE LUMP! And-”
“This is Luke, our current youngest. He’s only been here a couple of days. We do try to get you kids accustomed to your new abilities and out of here, and back with your folks as quickly as we can. And this is Holly, she’s been here for a month.” Holly, a rather wistful looking girl with mousy brown hair and a long wan face that was more than redeemed by a huge pair of gray eyes, gave a shy smile and waved. On her hands she was wearing what appeared to be a clumsy pair of oven mitts.
“This is Jake,” she indicated the lumpy boy who just looked at her. Tyler couldn’t make out what he was thinking through the deformation of his face. “Next is Mike,” she gestured at the boy in the helmet.
“Hey,” Mike said with the conflicted discomfort of a boy meeting a girl who he knew was way out of his league. ‘Oh God,’ Tyler groaned to herself, ‘I’m going to have to get used to this, and worse, horndogs who don’t have the sense to keep their distance.’
“And this is Barbara,” she indicated the girl in the sports gear.
“Hi there,” Barbara said with transparently false friendliness. Barbara was a moderately attractive girl, but Tyler got the distinct impression that she was reacting to the addition of a much more attractive girl when the fact that she was the only viable girl was possibly the only good thing about her situation.
“And finally, we have Ray, who’s been with us for a month and a week.”
Ray gave Tyler an appreciative look, smiled and said, “Yo!”
“So, anyway kids, this is Tyler Collier-”
“Hey Barb!” Luke blurted out, “She’s got the same name as that little FAG you like so much on Wiz Kids!” he gave Barb a gloating ‘pesky little brother’ leer, which she returned with an ‘annoyed older sister’ glare.
“Actually I AM that ‘little fag on Wiz Kids’,” Tyler growled at Luke with a glare that said, ‘don’t make me hurt you; I’d enjoy it too much.’
There was a pretty universal ‘say WHAT?’ reaction to that, and they all looked to Leslie. Leslie nodded sadly and said, “Yes, this is Tyler Collier, who up to a little under a month ago, was on the Diogenes, filming the Wiz Kids TV show.”
“WHAT?” Barbara yelped, eyes wide, the sound of heartbreak in her voice. “How? What happened?” Then suddenly Barbara burst forward at Tyler, crashing into her with at least 60 MPH of speed, bowling Ty over, and they went crashing backwards over one of the (fortunately) well-padded couches.
“DON’T!” Leslie ordered sternly. “Don’t do anything, Ty. Just… let Barbara get off of you herself…” As Barbara untangled herself from Ty, blushing as red as a beet, with the classic teenage ‘oh gawd, just let me die now’ look of utter humiliation on her face, Leslie explained, “Roughly a month ago, give or take a few days, Tyler was on the Diogenes, and he was attacked, injected with a combat grade nanite upgrade preparation, and placed into a jury-rigged forced adaptation chamber. And this is how she came out.”
“Hah?” Luke grunted in non-comprehension, though Holly looked confused as well.
“He got experimented on,” Ray summed it up. “Someone jumped him and shot him full of some super-soldier juice.”
“Close enough,” Tyler said as she tried to get up. Which was harder than it might seem, because she kept throwing herself into the air.
“Lemme guess: you’re super-strong,” Mike said with a puckish expression that suggested that he was covering up for the squick at the implied gayness of the situation.
“Wow, we’re having a run on experiments,” Ray noted. “Jake, Mike and Barb were all experimented on too. The runt,” he jerked a thumb at Luke, “says that he was abducted by a UFO.”
“At least that’s what he told his parents when they found him,” Mike snarked. “He’s told five different stories, and nobody really knows what happened to him.” Luke roared that it was TRUE, and they bickered back and forth for a while.
“And Leslie says that Holly’s an ‘Origin’, but Mittens won’t talk about it,” Ray continued. Holly shifted her gaze and sort of withdrew into herself.
“’Mittens’?” Tyler asked, “What’s all that about?”
“Oh it is SO COOL!” Luke gushed, “When she takes off those stupid mittens, she can touch things and MELT them and it’s all gross and shit!”
“Holly’s bioelectrical field has been changed so that it interferes with the chemical bonds that hold most organic and mineral things together,” Leslie explained. “But for some reason, they don’t affect materials with a complex long-chain polymer bond. The effect is strongest in her hands, which is why she has to wear those special mitts. But at the same time, that suggests that there is an element of conscious control to it, so we have hopes that Holly will learn to control the effect and find out how to turn it off.” With a warm smile, Leslie went over and gave Holly a big hug.
Tyler raised her eyebrows and looked at Holly with interest. “Okaaayyy… that’s pretty cool…” Then she looked at Luke. “’The Pulse’?”
“Oh the little spore soaks up energy,” Barb cut in. “He sucks up light and electricity and magnetism and like all that, and when he can’t hold anymore, he lets it all out in a big pulse of hot light- like a fart.” Luke just responded maturely, by sticking out his tongue.
“He can’t control it,” Mike said. “So he does it once every three or four hours, depending on things like how much light there is, how many electrical devices and like that.”
“Okay, and you?” Ty raised an eyebrow at Mike.
“Oh, some asshole grabbed me and injected me with something- kinda like you- and shoved my head in this thing and did weird stuff. Then he said that it was a wash, and dumped me in a parking lot. Then two days later, I started hearing what people were thinking. And they started hearing what I was thinking.”
“Mike is a Projective Telepath,” Leslie explained. “The helmet has an electrified grid that contains his projections.”
“But I can still read people if I touch ‘em,” Mike put in. “Comes in handy with Jake here.”
“Oh? Why’s that Jake?” Tyler asked.
But Jake didn’t say anything. “Jake can’t talk,” Mike explained. “His tongue is too big, and if he sticks it out or tries to talk, it takes him, like, ten minutes to flatten it down where it’ll fit in his mouth again. But I can tell what he wants to say when I touch him, so I’m like his mouthpiece.”
“Jake’s another experiment,” Leslie said. “Most likely yet another ‘super-soldier process’ that someone wanted to sluff the expense of post-recovery tests off on the public. His body is in a state of constant hyper-development, with his soft tissue outgrowing his cartilage, which is outgrowing his bones. His body tissue is five times denser than normal, and his bones are 8.5 times denser than normal.” Tyler wasn’t a biologist, let alone a medic, but she could see that Jake was facing issues that made hers look simple and uncomplicated. Well, at least medical issues anyway.
“Is there some kind of regulator for the growth?”
“YES,” Leslie answered with a gust of relief. “It’s… just taking its time.”
Jake and Tyler shared a weird ‘and here I thought that *I* got screwed’ look. Tyler held up a fist, and Jake bumped it. He’d obviously meant only to tap it, but he still sent Tyler back a little.
“Barbara’s been here for three weeks,” Leslie said, “and she’s really getting a handle on her super-speed’s trigger.”
“Yeah,” Barbara grumped, her eyes casting all around, not sure whether to stare at Tyler or not. “Now if only whatever the Flash has that makes it so he doesn’t run into stuff would kick in.”
“And what about you?” Tyler looked at Ray.
“Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to find a dynamorph, and be like Green Lantern,” Ray said with a sour tone. “Nobody told me the dang things didn’t come with an instruction book. I can give out with these killer jolts of electricity… only thank God, they haven’t actually killed anyone yet.”
Ray gave Tyler a long look and asked, “So, you’re like this big genius, right?”
“Yep!” Tyler had had almost exactly this conversation at least a thousand times. “Stanford Benet IQ of 197; online Associates degrees in Geology, Organic and Inorganic Chemistry, Physics, Engineering and Mathematics; Bachelor’s degree from UCLA in Geology; I speak Spanish, French, German, Arabic, Russian, and Japanese- and I’m told that I sound like an idiot in all of them.” It was an old trick that the more socially aware Wiz Kids used: people got weird around the gifted, like they were mutants or something, so you bombard them with it right up front, and then ‘admit’ to sucking at something. It didn’t work on everybody, but it worked well enough to use as an opener. This segued to the next regular trick; for some reason people tend to think that geniuses sit around playing chess all the time. So Tyler let Ray challenge him to a game of chess. The game took a lot longer than it should have because Tyler had to move the pieces with the chopsticks, which was finicky- when Tyler didn’t send the man flying with over 600 pounds of force. Ray took advantage of that- and the four times that Tyler accidentally flipped the entire chessboard- to reset the layout of the board to his advantage. Tyler saw it and let him. Ray was a decent but mediocre to average chess player, and Ty had been playing with cutthroat players, three of whom were already Masters, for the better part of two years. So, basically, Ty ‘let the Wookie win’.
After two games where Ty let Ray win, and a third where she made out like she just squeaked out a victory, Rhonda, one of the other therapists told the kids that they had a two-hour outdoor period scheduled. “Just remember kids- if you’re still here in three months, you’ll be begging to go outside for a while!”
Tyler and Jake shared a moment of bonding over the humiliation of having to stand there, arms stuck out, and being dressed like little kids. Topside, it was 3 in the afternoon, near the height of summer, and it was bearably cold. The exercise yard had a view of the perimeter fence and the scrubby tundra beyond that. The ‘playground’ was a good schoolyard-sized rubberized surface with lines marked out for various games, and over on one side were a few simple but hardy objects for the purposes of letting the younger kids get down to the vital business of being kids and crawling and swinging and so forth. Unfortunately, that business of kids being kids had a dark side, as represented by the figures of five boys in their mid-teens, wearing jackets and knit watch caps over bright red scrubs and sneakers. The five boys in red scrubs were lounging on the play structures, taking in that perennial favorite pastime of the bully: seeing exactly how far they could push less aggressive kids, without getting the old folks all excited.
While the Yellowjackets were dressed mainly to protect themselves and others, the Redcoats, as the prisoners were called, were dressed with the point that they were prisoners, and each had additional measures that suggested what their powers were. One of them had a set of chains shackled to his ankles that played out from a spool attached to the back of his belt. Tyler figured that if he got out of hand, the spool would motorize, draw the chains together and back, quickly and effectively hobbling him. Odds were that he was some kind of super-speedster. The big meaty-looking guy had a similar setup for both his hands and feet. Tyler wasn’t sure what that meant, until the guy reached for something and only leaned over the way that people normally do when he was stopped by the chain; he was a stretcher. The next guy was probably some sort of energy blaster, given the harness he was wearing; it had cables to the shackles on his wrists. Tyler recognized the collar that the largest of the boys was wearing: it was a choke collar. It would keep the already well over 6 foot tall, very burly boy from growing any larger by cutting off his breathing and the flow of blood to his brain when his neck expanded. Tyler kind of locked up thinking how big a mastodon like that could get. And there was no secret at all to the power of the final guy: he had gleaming metallic skin, and retracting chains like the first guy had, only thicker.
Holly and Luke went over to the play structures that had really been built for them- or at least children their age, and tried to use it. But the bullies held their ground, secure in the knowledge- or at least excuse- that ‘they weren’t doin’ nothing’ and blocked the smaller children from using the sturdy forms.
The activities director, Jubal, handled that with a deft blend of authority and grace that suggested that he might just earn his presumably large paycheck. He casually introduced Tyler to the ‘Redcoats’ and told them that he was getting up a game of dodge-ball. The Redcoats gave Tyler the kind of look that hinted that maybe those RadFems who were always whining about ‘men raping them with their eyes’ weren’t completely talking out of their asses. But the Redcoats were the kinds of guys who’d take that sort of ‘suggestion’ as a challenge. And they’d never turn down any kind of challenge in front of a beautiful girl.
Jubal made it a Redcoats against Yellowjackets game, with Holly and Luke sitting it out. Or rather, free to make use of the reinforced concrete crawlers and climbers and slides without the big dumb goons making a big thing out of it. The court was a simple layout in accordance with the American Dodgeball Association rules. The balls were basically high-tech beach balls, almost impossible to hurt anyone with, but also very tough to burst.
For the Redcoats, the game was less a matter of taking out the other team than it was exploiting a chance to harass the Yellowjackets and trip them up however they could. They catcalled both Tyler and Barbara, insulted Jake’s looks, insinuated that Mike was developmentally arrested and needed the helmet to keep from hurting himself, and tried to goad Ray into attacking them with his electrical powers. They won not by knocking the Yellowjackets out, but by tricking Barbara, Jake and Tyler into going out of the boundary lines and taking forfeits.
The game lasted for maybe 20 minutes of the 2-hour period, and was a solid victory for the Redcoats. The steeljacketed punk, who apparently went by ‘Razor’ (‘Oh, there’s a guy with a bright future in Social Work’, Tyler thought sarcastically to herself) snidely invited Tyler to come over and hang out with some real men.
“Hold your breath,” Tyler shot back. “You’d look good in blue.” Razor gave her the ‘ha-ha very not funny’ laugh and flipped her off. Still, the game had done its job. Luke and Holly could use the slides and swings, and the bullies couldn’t play their dominance games without being overt. Tyler choked down the anger, which caused the THX to kick in for a moment.
The five thugs had little group unity. The closest thing to an Alpha that the group had was ‘Razor’, who showed definite psychopathic tendencies. Overtly dominant, but he clearly had few if any real planning or leadership skills. However, like most psychopaths, he might have some talent for improvisation and opportunism. Also, his imprisonment may force him to do some forward thinking. Median Risk. Psychopaths usually have low thresholds for boredom and resistance to temptation. Most likely tactic would be to throw the others at whatever he was trying to overcome, let them take the heat, and run away with the prize. In a conflict, draw him into a direct fight, but continually break away as to draw him away from whatever his real goal is.
The greatest threat was the speedster ‘Jojo’. Why was there always a goon called ‘Jojo’? Thug mentality, definite follower, little ability to deal with new situations. But an unrestrained speedster could massively impact on any situation. Confusion would be the best way to deal with him. Overload him with options, confuse the situation, play up dire immediate threats. If possible, simply get him to run away.
While not the decisive threat that Jojo posed, the blaster, ‘Zap’, showed potential for greater tactical effectiveness. Nature of attack uncertain. Some form of electromagnetism likely, but not certain. Nature of psychology uncertain. Follower, but may simply not be challenging Razor for dominance of the group. Doesn’t seem to be that close with the other African among the Redcoats, ‘Stretch’. Too many unknowns, high risk, deal with first.
While not the major threat that Jojo was, or the tactical concern that ‘Zap’ was, the stretcher, ‘Stretch’ (how original) could add an element of chaos and unpredictability to a conflict. But only if he was so inclined. Large and physical, he would overbear Razor if not for the latter’s steel skin. He didn’t show much in the way of initiative or creativity or team spirit during dodge ball game. Could have protected other players by catching balls, even with the restraint, but didn’t bother. Shows signs of follower mentality. Most likely a simple bully who doesn’t realize the tactical potential of his power. Simply give him a chance to opt out of a real fight and he’d probably take it.
Ironically, the most intimidating of the five, the giant, ‘Hubie’, was the least threat. While possibly very powerful at full growth, Hubie was slow and an easy target at Dodgeball. Shows signs of frustration and suppressed anger, and has difficulty moving effectively. Reflexive follower. Slow mover. Simply avoid him. In any conflict at Camp LeMay, odds are that Razor would contrive to remove Hubie’s collar, allow him to grow to his full height, and simply use him as a moveable wall to shield whatever he’s up to. Razor will most likely use Hubie and discard at first convenience.
Tyler snapped out of the fugue state with a start. Damn, she hated that, everything so cold and stark and laid out in a strict asset/ liability division. She was glad that she hadn’t had time to evaluate the other Yellowjackets. The fugue-states were getting shorter and milder. Tyler just hoped that they didn’t result in some sort of unwilling learned behavior.
Tyler needed something to wash out the ‘taste’ of that day-trip to Sociopath-land. She took a deep breath and looked up into the sky. The sky was a pale blue, and Tyler started to reason out why it was this shade, but shoved that aside, and concentrated on enjoying the blue of it. It was odd that a rock-hound, a natural geologist, should find the sight of the empty sky soothing, but she did. She’d been underground too long. She took another deep breath, looked up and wished that she could be up there in that wonderful blue.
Tyler’s reverie was disturbed when someone talked at her and jabbed her in the shoulder. Snapping to, she turned to see a stone-faced USAF Technical Sergeant in semi-plate body armor, with two loaded-for-grizzly Watchdog power suits backing him up. Ty looked around. The ‘play’ on the playground had come to abrupt halt, as even the Redcoats had stopped their games to watch what was going down. “Can… I help you?” Tyler asked.
“Come with us,” the Sergeant said, holding up a pair of power restraints.
“Just _come _with _us,” the Sergeant said, opening the restraints. Tyler allowed the Sergeant to wrap the all-too familiar belt around her waist, then the wrist shackles, and then clip the chains connecting the shackles to the belt. Her face settling into a stony stoicism, she followed the Sergeant, with the two Watchdogs following along. Tyler was taken to the office, but since she’d been taken directly to her cell from the plane, she’d never seen the office before. She wasn’t given an opportunity to get used to the place. She was spared Jadis’ ordeal by patience in favor of denying her the chance to mentally review her situation.
She was brought in front of the colonel’s desk, where he stood like a biblical patriarch passing judgment. Without any preamble, the Colonel snapped out, “What is Jadis Diabolik up to?”
“What?” Tyler bleated.
“I ask the questions here!” the Colonel snapped. “When is Dr. Diabolik attacking?”
“How would I know?” Tyler shot back. “Why would he want to attack here?”
“Why did Dr. Diabolik arrange to have you given super powers and planted here?” the Colonel overran him. “He arranged all that crap with turning you into a girl as a payment for acting as his Fifth Column?”
The Colonel threw a few other accusations at Tyler that were either ridiculously paranoid, or he was yanking Ty’s chain for some reason. Tyler pulled in her head and said, “This is a hostile interrogation. According to the Miranda Decision, I have the right to an attorney present. In keeping with that decision, I will remain silent until I have my attorney present, either in person or by teleconference.”
“That Cop Show crap doesn’t fly here, this is an Air Force base, and I am the Security Commander!” the Colonel snarled, and from there, he proceeded to harangue Ty for the better part of an hour. Ty simply drew into herself, and let the old man’s nasty barrage wash over her. She stifled the anger she felt, which of course cued one of those THX fugues to kick in. The Colonel was too intent on his tirade to notice, and Ty spent most of the time pleasantly plotting out exactly how to get out of the shackles, and precisely which way of tearing the nasty old fart apart would be the most satisfying.
Finally, the Colonel snarled, “Get this freak out of my sight! Just looking at it makes me sick to my stomach!” But Tyler wasn’t led back to the Yellow Silo. Instead, she was taken to a familiar solitary confinement cell, and left there without the restraints being taken off. Tyler sat there steaming, again left with the only way of telling how much time was passing by the really annoying cramps that she got about once a day or so. While the rest of her body had been changed, her uterine system was completely new and hadn’t finished growing yet. So, once a day (she guessed) she got a series of cramps that were like someone was twisting a knife in her gut.
The cramps had passed and the rage had dwindled down to a peeve, when the door opened. Another sergeant, this one not wearing armor, came in and released her from the restraints. “You have a phone call,” was all that he said. Tyler followed him wordlessly as he led her out of the cell block to the office, where she was shown to a (comparatively) comfortable chamber with a slightly oversized chair facing a large screen monitor. Shown on the monitor was an old man in a very expensive suit. Interestingly, the most interesting thing about this man was how uninteresting he was. He was an utterly bland, inoffensive looking man who looked like someone that Central Casting sent out to play the third accountant on the right in an Office scene. Tyler sat down and looked at the man. “Hello?” she greeted him unsure as to exactly what was going down.
[Good afternoon, Miss Collier,] the man greeted her. [I’m J. Parkinson Dunmore, your lawyer.]
“You’re my lawyer?” Tyler responded, confused. “But what was all that business with Colonel whatsisname? He hauled me off the playground in power restraints, and was making noises like I’d already been tried!”
Dunmore nodded. [I’m afraid that the Colonel had a nasty case of paranoia overload. It happens with remote bases like LeMay, where 99.999% of the time, it’s mind-numbing tedium, but that one time in 100 thousand that something happens, it’s a catastrophe, and you’ve constantly got the be ready for the catastrophe. I just spent the better part of an hour reminding the Colonel that Project Square One is a civilian effort, and the very real separation of the Military and Civilian power structures. But I wouldn’t worry about the Colonel from now on.]
“Why? You didn’t threaten his career or anything?” Tyler asked with worry. There was nothing more likely to get every guard on the base pissed off at her than threatening the Old Man’s career.
Dunmore chuckled. [Oh, I didn’t threaten the Colonel’s career; I threatened his vacation time. The Colonel has six weeks in Tampa, Florida coming up, and I’m in a position to make that not happen.]
“Owch. You play hardball!”
Dunmore smiled. [Anything else is playing to lose. On the other hand, I’m also in a position to upgrade his vacation to Cabo San Lucas. He’s much less likely to complain if he’s getting something out of it.]
Suddenly, some of the more incomprehensible arrangements that she’d seen connected to the Quest Foundation made a lot more sense to Tyler.
[And to do him justice, the Colonel was reacting to pressure from his superiors,] Dunmore added. [Favors and threats are definitely being traded in Washington. But that has its upside.]
“How?” Tyler asked with a raised eyebrow and a glacial gaze.
[The threats and favors don’t mention YOU very much. YOU personally aren’t really a very great factor in the matter. My guess from the buzz is that what’s really going on has more to do with the Quest Foundation, though I wouldn’t be surprised if the dead boy, Rivera, wasn’t more important to the issue than you are.]
“How’s that an upside?”
[You are most likely being scapegoated for this as a matter of convenience,] Dunmore explained, [the first even vaguely credible suspect, that sort of thing. The point being that no one has a vested interest in your conviction; they just want the issue to go away. That means that if you can give them something more solid than the house of cards they’ve got now, they won’t fight it that much. Jadis and I are following some interesting leads from this end, but it would look best all-around if you found something that at least provided an alternative explanation, if not cleared you or laid the guilt somewhere else.]
“You’re saying that if you just get me out by pulling strings and putting pressure on people, then I got off ‘cause I had a sharp lawyer,” Tyler said, wrapping her head around the idea. “But if we find something material, something that either derails their case or provides better suspects, then the FBI and the Attorney General can say that I was never really a suspect, just a ‘person of interest’ that had to be investigated on general principles.”
“And I’m not really that big a deal in all of this?”
[I know that it’s not what a young man wants to hear, but trust me, it’s all for the best.]
“But I have super powers!” Tyler objected, “Aren’t there super-soldier projects that would be interested in the Malice Upgrade?”
[Not really,] Dunmore shook his head apologetically. [You have to understand that whatever interest there was in the Malice Upgrade played out when Dr. Chase overrode the mind control sequence and freed herself from that criminal scientist’s control. It was very hot for a few weeks, but from what my contacts told me, the scientist who created it was more interested in the old ‘showgirl/ henchwoman’ act, than in creating a viable super-soldier complex. As one expert told me, the Malice Upgrade nanite complex is regarded as ‘idiosyncratic and quirky’, with unpredictable effects. Also, I’m told that multiple samples of the complex have been traded around since then, so most of the agencies that would be interested in you have most likely gone beyond the Malice Upgrade.]
“But… someone IS interested in it,” Ty mused. “Interested enough to get samples from Dr. Chase, breed new cultures from that, inject it into Leo and me, and then shove us into those adaptation chambers.”
[Which suggests that the guilty party was paradoxically rash and impulsive,] Dunmore said severely, [yet capable of carrying out the extended plans of obtaining the Malice Upgrade from Dr. Chase somehow, and of constructing not one but two of those adaptation chambers under the noses of the Diogenes’ crew. Also they’re technically brilliant enough to do all that, while being so lacking in judgment that they’d do something that stupid. Which, to my aged eyes, practically spells out ‘adolescent’.]
“Well, we already knew just from needing the technical expertise to build the adaptation chambers, and the physical isolation of the Diogenes, that whoever did it was one of the seven remaining Wiz Kids,” Tyler pointed out pettishly. “All that means is that they weren’t doing it for some outside party. Nobody’s threatening them or bribing them into doing it.”
Dunmore nodded. [Jadis said that she talked to you about your reviewing the Diogenes’ video files and computer records?]
“Yes, and I WILL, just as soon as they stop shoving me around from one place to another, let me get to a laptop, just let me DO it!” Tyler snapped. “I’m being ‘one more thing’-ed to death!”
Dunmore chuckled. [What’s so funny?] Tyler snapped.
[You remind me of Jadis, when I first met her.]
“She was my age when you first met her, working for Dr. Diabolik?”
[First of all,] Dunmore corrected her, [I don’t work for Dr. Leonides Diabliku. Never have. He managed to wrangle me into being his daughter’s guardian when her presence in New York City was exposed, and he pulled that off largely because I never saw it coming. And no, Jadis was much younger, only 11 as a matter of fact. I remember it like it was yesterday; there she was, this scrawny little smartmouth who was furiously trying to get her little brother and herself away from their foster parents by questioning their qualifications on the grounds of criminal unsuitability.]
[And it could have worked!] Dunmore laughed out loud. [Using only what legal information as she could scrape off the Internet, Jadis had cobbled together a case that had the NYC Family Services people afraid for their jobs! Jadis has an uncanny knack for spotting flaws, contradictions and glossed over points in people’s arguments. It was mostly bluff of course, and that sleazebag Timbrook-]
Dunmore waved that aside. [The thing is, you both have that same formidable intellect, the same canny focus and insight, the same remarkable reflexive analysis- and you both scare the living daylights out of me.]
“I… scare… you?” Well that was a first one for Ty!
[Anyone who isn’t afraid of you, Tyler Abrams Collier, is a blithering idiot!] Dunmore said dramatically. [When I saw Jadis at work that day, I said to myself, ‘What does that moron Timbrook think he’s doing, setting that little demon against the system?’ If he’d been allowed to continue his stupid, utterly indefensible, morally bankrupt scheme, he could have convinced Jadis that the system was her mortal enemy! He almost created a supervillain who would have eclipsed her father in destruction, death and sheer devastation! And you? Jadis is very smart, but you’re a Genius! And you’re a Geologist! With an interest in Vulcanism! Earthquakes, tidal waves, volcanoes, toxic geysers, sinkholes; forces that the Ancients ascribed to the works of angry GODS, could be your weapons! Dr. Diabolik raids cities; you could lay waste to entire regions, and never have to set foot on them. You could redraw the globe to suit your fancy! I look at you, and I say to myself, ‘what do these morons think they’re doing? She could wipe out Humanity!’
[And worse-] Dunmore looked sadly at Ty. [There’s that same sense of outrage. You were both slightly coddled children, protected and loved, and then suddenly, for no fault of your own, accused of horrible things. People attacked you, not because you had done anything, just… to advance some private agenda of their own. No matter what she ever does, Jadis will always be the daughter of Dr. Diabolik. Everything she does will be tainted or at least dismissed by that. There will always be some screaming idiot claiming that she owes them something because of something that her father did. And no matter what you do, even if you’re completely exonerated of Leonardo Rivera’s death, you will always be derided by some mouthy yahoo as a freak who changed her sex, either out of spite or to try and club you into doing something they want.]
“How… nice of you to remind me of that,” Tyler grumbled.
[And I will tell you what I told Jadis, all those years ago:] Dunmore leaned intently into the camera, [Most people think of the System as a machine that chews people up and spits them into little boxes; it isn’t. The System is a playing field. What the System does depends largely on what you do on that playing field. If you just SIT there, the other players will run rings around you and use you as a pawn in their games with no consideration for your wants or needs. And half of the game is figuring out who’s on your side, and who’s looking to take advantage of you. And sides change all the time.]
“But… I don’t really like politics,” Tyler objected.
[Neither did Jadis,] Dunmore countered. [But the sad fact of the matter is that there are tons of people out there who LOVE politics, and there’s nothing they enjoy more than running roughshod over someone who doesn’t know how to protect themselves.] Dunmore paused and considered. [Let me frame it for you this way: think about your two friends, Tom Chase and Linda Havoc. Think about how they jockey for position to be the big hero in whatever mess is going down. Think about how they played you and, well everyone else on the boat to do that. Now… if you were completely cleared tomorrow of all wrongdoing, and you returned to the Diogenes when it sets sail in the Fall- HOW do you think they’d react to you?]
Tyler started to respond, but then, just as she was opening her mouth, you could see a realization come to her, and then another and another and another. “eeewww…” she winced.
[Precisely,] Dunmore nodded with satisfaction. [And you’re already a highly visible target for predators that make those two clowns look like fluffy little bunnies. I can get you out of this, Tyler, but I can’t always be there to protect you. The best thing I ever did for Jadis was to teach her how to not only protect herself, but how to put the scavengers and opportunists on the defensive.] Dunmore leaned forward, and said. [And the first lesson in learning how to do that is ‘Never let the other guy set the terms’.]
[But there are upsides to your situation,” Dunmore continued. [First, as a minor, you’re going to be a tad removed from the bare knuckles part for a while. But you’ll be in a position to see the bare knuckles happening, with a clear idea as to who’s on your side. That should be instructive. Second, when you return to the Diogenes, you’ll be in the middle of, ah, what you might call ‘Little League’ politicking and maneuvering, especially between Chase and Havoc. For the most part, it will be over petty things like the spotlight and position among the interns and so forth. The perfect arena for you to get your feet wet, where it won’t really mean that much. Learn from the people on the Diogenes, Tyler. Especially that ratbag Lennox. I couldn’t ask for a better instructor in the arts of wheedling and manipulation. Don’t trust the man, Dear God! Just… learn from him.]
Dunmore leaned forward. [By the way of melding together a little news from the home front and a lesson: your stepfather, Julian, pre-sold your first two patents for $50,000 each.]
“How can you sell something that doesn’t exist?” Ty asked, confused.
[It’s called an option, and it’s done all the time.]
“But… how can he act on my behalf when he’s disowned me?”
[Better,] Dunmore said with a nod. [He did it before he formally disowned and disavowed you. But that works in our favor.]
“HOW?” Ty asked, “Now I’m legally obligated to produce two patents that are worth 50 grand each!”
Dunmore chuckled. [NO, it just means that when you do acquire two patents, that that company has legal options to them buy them at a pre-set price. When I gained your Power of Attorney, I contacted some people in Exxon’s patents division and in your name purchased two not-obsolete but considerably surpassed mineral processing patents for $100 each. Due to the wording of your stepfather’s agreement with them, those are the two first patents that you obtained, and those are the ones that that company has the option on.] Dunmore pushed over Ty’s objection. [Now, if you or I had made that agreement, there might be some nasty questions as to Bad Faith, but Julian made the agreement; we’re just dealing with what he set up. This works for us, because it places your stepfather in a position where, because he’s disowned you, he no longer has any legal authority over you. He has no claim to any of your property- including the house that he and your mother and stepsister are living in, the family cars, the bank accounts that he hasn’t closed out, the dry cleaning business, and several rental properties, all of which he placed in your name for tax purposes.] Dunmore gave a vicious grin. [All of which I have taken control of, acting on your behalf. On the other hand, if Julian tries to reclaim Power of Attorney over you once you’re freed, he’ll be in a position where, as he was the one who made that agreement, he’ll be vulnerable to charges of Fraud and Abuse of Attorney. And any of the other very serious charges that we could press. I’ll swat him on the nose with a newspaper, so that he understands that.]
Dunmore leaned forward into the camera intently. [Tyler, I understand that your father is a lovely, wonderful man, but you know all too-well that he’s a dreamer and hardly what you’d call a forceful, dynamic man.]
“Yeah,” Ty agreed with a grunt. “He’s a nice guy, and I love him… but he just let that creep Julian come in and take everything… even MOM. Hell, I haven’t heard anything from him since all of this started. He’s probably hiking around the Sierras, feeling guilty as hell about running out on me.”
Dunmore quirked a smile. [Well, if you despair of your father so much… then WHY do you emulate him?]
OWCH. Tyler winced at that, feeling the point hit far too close to home.
Tyler was escorted back to the Yellow Silo by Jubal, the activities director who’d impressed Ty earlier. Unfortunately, Jubal said something that both put Ty right back into the foul mood she’d been in earlier, and flushed that good impression right down the crapper. “Y’know,” he said in a very ‘I’m disappointed’ tone of voice, “you’re only making it harder on yourself. The more you hide behind that slick lawyer and play the wounded innocent, the worse off you’re going to be. And you’re just going to discredit the kids in the Yellow Silo, by tarring them by association with you.”
Tyler stopped and glared at Jubal. It was with incredible self-control that she didn’t simply reach over, peel him out of that stupid armored suit like a banana and reduce him to a greasy smear on the polished concrete. Jubal tugged at her arm, but Tyler didn’t move. Jubal tugged harder, and started to say something angrily, but then he caught the look in Tyler’s eyes. He shut up, and looked around for someone to hide behind. But he couldn’t go screaming down the hallway, because Tyler hadn’t DONE anything. His fear of looking like a total weenie warred with his instinct for self-preservation. Then, when Tyler felt Jubal’s conflict come to a peak, but not before he’d actually come to a decision, she moved toward the Yellow Silo. As they walked, Ty mulled over the insight that she hadn’t so much taken power away from Jubal, as she simply hadn’t given it to him. But you’re supposed to feel strong and empowered and confident when you realize that you have power- so why was she so scared?
By the time they got to the Yellow Silo, Ty was working over the possibility that as children, the most powerful people in our lives are our parents, who are bigger, stronger, wiser, and quick to keep us safe. When you gave power to your parents, you knew that everything was going to be all right. On the other hand, your parents were always telling you to not go off and do things on your own, ‘cause it was dangerous and scary and stuff. Tyler didn’t come to any major conclusions on that comparatively short, tense trip, but one thing was very clear: she couldn’t afford to kick back and let the Old Folks take care of everything anymore, no matter how involved things got. Because if she did, they’d just tut her into doing nothing, when she had to be doing everything she possibly could.
And indeed, since it was past 7 by then, Mrs. Cannon, the dorm supervisor was awkward about letting Tyler have the laptop. She was afraid that Tyler’s touch was still so heavy-handed that she’d batter the keyboard to splinters. Tyler responded that the laptop had a hardlight interface, and the worst that her clumsy fingers would do would make an input error. Mrs. Cannon told Tyler that her lawyer wouldn’t approve of her meddling in the investigation. Tyler returned that her looking at the files was Mr. Dunmore’s idea. They went back and forth for a bit, but Tyler held her ground. She had a right to that laptop, she had a need for that laptop; it wasn’t a prize or a privilege, it was a tool that she needed. She didn’t plead, she didn’t beg, she didn’t whine, and most of all, she didn’t get angry. She just dug in her heels and didn’t take no for an answer. Eventually Cannon gave in and let her have the laptop. But even so, Tyler only had a little over an hour before the curfew, and she only had the time to find Mr. Dunmore’s web address and request the link for the files.
Still, the next morning, over a breakfast that was eaten with those chopsticks and a very large spoon that was made of the same material as the chopsticks, Tyler opened the laptop and found that Mr. Dunmore had responded with an interesting redundancy of links to the footage. Tyler made herself pursue the line of reasoning further: there were links to the USAG files, to the Quest Foundation files, to the Diogenes files, and to the Abecedarian Productions™, the company that produced Wiz Kids, files. If Ty’s access to one of the files was denied, that would suggest that there was something in those files that someone didn’t want seen, and the places where the access was denied first would be suggestive. Also, if files were simply pulled from the record, there was enough overlap to figure out exactly which file had been jerked, and duplicates to see what was so interesting about that particular file. Tyler saw herself doing a lot of sampling and comparing, looking for alterations. Fortunately, there were robots that could do that a lot better than the human eye, which meant that she would be reviewing the footage more for context than precise accuracy. And the unworthy thought occurred to Tyler, that she’d probably see whatever it was right away, if she forced herself to have a THX fugue. But that might be the start of a nasty habit.
Tyler opened the link to the USAG files for a quick overview. But as Tyler was framing exactly how she’d search, Holly, the young girl with the mittens, walked up to her with curious eyes. “Tyler?” she peeped shyly.
“Yes?” Tyler paused and gave Holly her full attention. It would be a long time before Ty could afford to multi-task at anything.
“Jubal says we can’t hang around with you anymore. Howcome?”
Tyler started to say something, but her conversation with Mr. Dunmore returned to her. Thinking about it for a second she asked, “Did he say ‘can’t’ or ‘shouldn’t’?”
Tyler saw the second of confusion on Holly’s face, quickly followed by the realization of the point of the distinction between the two: ‘can’t’ was an order, while ‘shouldn’t’ was a recommendation. “Shouldn’t.”
Ty nodded and answered, “I think that this has something to do with it,” she tapped the collar around her neck.
“What’s that?” Holly asked, and Luke came over to peer at it curiously.
“This is a tracking collar that they put on prisoners. It has a tracking beacon and a punishment shocker built into it. They use it to keep track of the hardasses over in the Red Silo. That’s where I was, before yesterday.”
“What?” Barbara peeped up from where she was eating enough for three people, “Why did they have you over with the sleazebags?”
“Because they think that I killed Leonardo Rivera.” Might as well get it out so that no one could blame you for keeping a secret.
“WHAT?” Barb yelped like she’d been scalded. She ran over and bowled over Tyler and her breakfast, and sent the laptop flying. Holly managed to snag the laptop in midair. Tyler let Barb get up by herself, but even through her furious blushes, Barb demanded, “What? Leo’s DEAD? You KILLED him? Why would you DO that?”
“I DIDN’T,” Ty said as she slowly picked herself up off the floor. That was the key, she’d learned, do things slowly and gradually, until your reflexes get a hang of the forces they’re controlling.
“Then what happened?” Barb continued even louder, “When did this happen?”
“The same thing that happened to me,” Tyler explained. “About two weeks before I got jumped, someone did the same to Leo. Only when we found him, instead of a girl, Leo looked…” Ty let out a pained sigh. “Well, let’s just say, Jake, I sincerely hope that you never look like that.”
The lumpy, malformed boy’s eyes popped open and he let out a choked noise that might have been ‘eewww…’
“Yeah,” Tyler let a pained look melt across her face, “the only way that we could identify him was that his clothes were right there by the chamber. A dentist was able to confirm that by one of the crowns on his teeth, and that fancy tattoo he had on his left arm. It was distorted all to hell, but it was the right pattern in the right place.”
“But… why would they think that YOU did it?” Barb sputtered.
“They found me in almost exactly the same kind of adaptation chamber,” Tyler said, “with the same super-soldier nanite complex that gave Dr. Chase her super-everything, but while Leo got ripped apart, _I_ survived and got super powers.”
“But… you got turned into a GIRL!”
“I don’t think that they’re really looking into it that hard,” Tyler sighed. “The FBI has its suspect, and my lawyer tells me that someone’s pulling strings to have them take all of that as a given.”
“You mean they ARRESTED YOU?”
“No, it’s a lot more convoluted than that.” Ty spelled out what Jadis Frost had told him.
“Yeah, and how do WE know that you didn’t do it?” Ray asked. Then he looked over at Mike. Then he gave Tyler a questioning look.
Tyler let out another sigh. “It’ll never stand up in court, but… go ahead, Mike.”
Mike fiddled with his helmet, walked over and did the ‘Mr. Spock’ thing where he put his tips of his fingers on Tyler’s forehead and concentrated. After a minute, he broke the scene and said, “Weeelllll… I’m not a big mind-reading expert or nothing, but… I’m getting… she’s angry, she’s frustrated, she’s scared, and she’s really confused about being a girl… but I’m not picking up anything that says that she feels guilty, or that she’s afraid that people will find out that she did it. And she’s HELLA uncomfortable with the whole being a girl thing.” He shrugged widely. “I don’t think she did it.”
The posture and tone of the group shifted subtly yet dramatically. Tyler was now one of their own, and she was on the spot.
“Thanks, Mike,” Tyler said with a gratified nod. “But like I said, that won’t stand up in court, and I kinda doubt that the counselors and like that will believe you. Jubal thinks that if the FBI says I did it, then I did it.”
“And what about Leslie and Rachel and Becky and Mrs. Cannon?”
“Dunno,” Ty admitted. “I think that they-”
But Ty was cut off when Holly said, “Tyler, someone’s trying to reach you.” She handed Ty the laptop.
Ty very gingerly handed the laptop back to Holly and had her reset the hardlight interface and display. When that was done, Ty touched the ‘conversation requested’ icon and Jadis Frost appeared on the display. [Ah! Good Morning, Tyler! I see that I caught you at breakfast. Or at least, something caught you at breakfast] she ended with a quip, noting the scraps of scrambled egg and other breakfast stuff over Ty. Looking past Tyler, she noted the other kids peering back at her curiously. [It’s nice to see that you’re making friends]
Tyler introduced the kids, starting with Luke and proceeding upwards in age, as seemed to be the rule. When Ty introduced Jadis, Mike blurted out, “You’re friends with Jadis Diabolik?”
[FROST,] Jadis replied with the stiff faux-friendliness of adults coping with less-than-tactful children [I don’t go by ‘Diabolik’ anymore] But the kids were giving Frost looks of curiosity rather than censure, so she continued, [While it’s nice to see that you’re fitting in, I have another reason to call. I need your point of view on what happened at La Isla Maldita, and a few technical details. Not on Hugh Fienberg’s death-]
“WHAT? Barbara yelped, “Hugh Fienberg’s dead? What’s going ON, over on that boat?”
“To be honest, the Law of Averages,” Tyler said as she hit the link to Lennox’s files. “You can’t go running into crazed products of Mad Science, ruthless heavily armed criminals, and headcases with super powers and not have someone get hurt. And the occasional sprain or boo-boo doesn’t count. Dr. Chase has been complaining about that ever since the Pirate Submarine incident, but it’s great for the ratings, so the Quest Foundation Board of Directors keeps Ellsworth, the Foundation Rep on the ship, in charge of the mission. Dr. Chase hates that almost as much as she hates us getting sent into high risk situations.”
Tyler synced the laptop with the 120” HD screen TV (which doubled as a FPS target screen), and said, “Okay, remember this is raw footage- that means that it hasn’t been cut for broadcasting. Each episode is only 52 minutes, so a lot of the unessential stuff gets cut out. Even if Lennox would leave it in.” A map of the Caribbean appeared on the big screen. “Okay, for you guys, this is the Lower Antilles, the chain of islands in the Caribbean that’s closest to Venezuela. This red dot right here is La Isla Maldita, and it’s almost perfectly the same distance between Venezuela, Trinidad and Granada.”
“Why’s that important?” Holly asked.
“Because that means that all three, Venezuela, Trinidad and Granada have equal territorial claim to it,” Mike explained.
“BINGO,” Tyler said, “But given the balance of politics in the Caribbean, more likely it means that all three nations, and a bunch of shipping companies, have a vested interest that it not become the property of any one nation. Very neat, very tidy- almost like someone planned it that way.”
“So What? Ray bleated, “I mean, the politics of that little rock can’t be that important. I mean, they must have come to an agreement about that thing centuries ago.”
“That’s sort of the point, Ray,” Tyler said, bringing up a map of an island that was roughly the shape of a diamond. “Y’see, in 1960, there wasn’t anything there. Then, in 1964, there was an island there. Then, in 1967, the damn thing sank, not even leaving a tsunami behind.”
“Why would there be a tsunami?”
“Because that’s what usually happens when that much rock suddenly drops into the ocean,” Tyler said with annoyance. “Okay, the 2004 Indian Ocean mega-tsunami was triggered by a tremor off Sumatra that registered at 9.0, which is roughly the same amount of energy as 23,000 Hiroshima-scale A-bombs, and the seismic counters only registered a 6.3 blip when La Isla Maldita slipped below, but still something should have happened!”
[I have information that a secret crime syndicate called DAGGER- no idea what the acronym stands for- had built a secret base on it.] Jadis said. Tyler explained to the kids about how back in the 1950s and 60s, it almost seemed like someone was putting up new islands just for supervillains, mad scientists and secret crime syndicates to build bases on. [American, French and one international special enforcement agency, none of whose names I can only find out with a lot more effort than I’m willing to put into it, sent in teams, and between them they managed to bring the house down- literally]
“And then three months ago, after decades of being a historical not-even-trivia question and a geological riddle, La Isla Maldita rose up again,” Tyler finished smugly.
That took the kids a little aback. “And… nobody noticed?” Mike asked.
“Oh, it was noticed this time,” Tyler smirked. “Back in the Sixties, the orbital satellite network was just going up, so it slipped under the radar. This time? This time, they saw it coming even before the tip of the hill broke the surface.”
“The highest point on the island is about 150 ft. too low from Sea Level, and has the wrong slope, and the island is only about 30 square miles; there isn’t a lot of universally accepted criteria for either mountains or continents,” Tyler explained. “Basically, it’s just way too wimpy to be a mountain.” She waved that point aside. “Anyway, after a bunch of landings that were sent packing, the Venezuelans asked the Quest Foundation if they’d send a responsible team of investigators to look at the place. But instead, the Foundation sent in the Wiz Kids.”
Tyler went at the laptop. “Okay, this next bit is footage that Lennox was cutting for the show, so it will be a little easier to understand.”
<The opening view was the familiar sight of the Diogenes from about 50 feet away, obviously an establishing shot. Then the shot shifted to the aft deck of the ship, and there was a shot of a tall, athletic, strapping very attractive woman with long dark waving hair, wearing a Quest Foundation polo shirt with khaki shorts held up by a formidable utility belt. On her head, shading her eyes was a Q-visor, which besides protecting her from the sun, was packed with a wide variety of sensors that gave out their findings on the eyepiece that was part and parcel of the visor.>
“This is, for those who don’t watch the show, Dr. Helen Chase, our Mission Leader, call sign: ‘Mamma Bear’. Dr. Chase has a PhD in Organic Chemistry, a Doctorate in Metahuman Biology, and a bunch of alphabet soup in a very wide variety of topics.” Tyler looked at Luke. “That means she’s, like, super-smart. Besides having an IQ of 173 and speaking five languages, a while ago, some supervillain- I forget his name- tried to turn her into a superpowered henchwoman with a side order of girlfriend by injecting her with a nano-tech super-serum.”
[It’s a sadly common thing with Criminal Scientists,] Jadis commented from an inset window [sometimes it seems that every yutz with too many degrees and no principles wants a super-strong cutie to be his girlfriend and bodyguard. Funny thing; they never ask the girl how she feels about it]
“Pretty much,” Tyler said. “Anyway, she can lift somewhere between 5 and 6 tons, jump over two football field-lengths from a running start, run at over 40 MPH with bursts of 60 MPH and I once saw her take four bullets from a 9mm submachine gun at close range. It hurt her, but she didn’t go down, and she took the gun away from the asshole and beat the crap out of him.”
“Ooh, ooh!” Barb hooted with fangirl enthusiasm, “The Mayan Relic Smugglers in the Yucatan!”
“Ah, yeah,” Tyler grunted. “And they were using the money to fund the insurrection in the Yucatan, so the Mexican government was real happy with us for that.”
[So, Ty, how do you feel about Dr. Chase?] Jadis asked.
That stopped Ty in her tracks. Her amused expression failed. She took a deep breath and said, “Well… we’ve always gotten along… but I… I just wish that I’d heard from her. I just can’t believe that she believed the things they were saying about me… that I’d DO a thing like that… to anyone… let alone to Leo… and Suzy. Miss Frost, I hear that Suzy Becker has been trying to get in touch with me. Could you clear it somehow that we could talk?”
[I’ll see what I can do] Jadis said [Anyway, let’s get back to the footage?]
<Then the camera played across the sight of a tall, muscular man with strong features and short but thick brown hair. He also wore a Quest Foundation polo shirt and a utility belt, but with jeans, a shoulder utility harness, his utility belt included a holster for a very no-nonsense semi-automatic pistol, and he wore Q-glasses that included targeting sights for the pistol. He could have been the badass hero of a 1980s action film.>
“Again for anyone who doesn’t watch the show, this is Eric Newell, the ship’s security officer, call sign: Ace. He gets to be ‘Ace’, so there’s no fighting over it. He’s in charge of keeping us safe. Dr. Chase may be super-strong and hella fast and able to stop bullets, but he’s got the real training to do the job.”
“Sooo…” Barb asked with eyes a-sparkle with curiosity, “What’s the real deal with Dr. Chase and Eric? I mean, they got chemistry like you wouldn’t believe! Are they all hot and heavy when the cameras aren’t running?”
“Oh, I agree, both the Doc and Eric are warm for each other,” Tyler said. “But I don’t think anything has or will come of it.”
“Why not?” Barb asked with a note of disappointed romanticism.
“Well, first of all, there IS the whole Professionalism’ thing,” Tyler explained. “Also, when you’re on TV with kids- or at least teenagers- regularly being exposed to remarkable levels of danger, you really can’t afford to give any critics any ammunition.”
“Critics?” Barb demanded, “Why would there be critics? It’s a great show!”
[There are always critics,] Jadis droned sourly from her inset [even if you’re doing the right thing in the right way at the right time in the right place for the right people, then you’re not doing enough of it]
“But the real thing is, even if they got together off-season with no cameras around, there’s the very real fact that while Eric’s a very tough guy, he’s still a baseline, and Dr. Chase is superhuman. There’s an old essay by Larry Niven called ‘Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex’ that touches on some of the problems there.” Tyler kited a look at Luke and Holly, “Or, in this case, ‘Snoo-Snoo’ will have to suffice.” And with that, Tyler quickly moved on.
<The next shot was of a teenage girl who could have been cast as the ‘All-American sweetheart next door’ for a sitcom or teenage movie. She was svelte and graceful, but with just enough curves to interest, had a sweet face with big round blue eyes and straw-blonde hair done up in a ponytail. She wore a blue T-shirt with a picture of Aquaman™ on it, a pair of denim short-shorts, deck shoes and a Q-visor. She was working intently on something that looked both electronic and waterproof.>
“And beginning alphabetically, we have Suzy Becker, call sign ‘Splash’. She’s a hydrologist and a bunch of other stuff, and if she hadn’t hooked up with Leo Rivera the first week, there probably would have been a few fights over her.”
“C’mon,” Barb grumbled, “You can’t tell me that she’s as sweet as they make her out on the show.”
“mmeeehhh… Yes’n No,” Tyler fudged. “Yeah, Lennox edits it to play up the ‘Everyone’s Sweetheart’ angle, but to do her credit, Suzy really IS a genuinely nice person.”
“What’s a Hydrologist?” Luke asked.
“Well, basically, it’s someone who studies water.”
“How do you study water?”
“Well, actually, it’s really involved, and there’s a lot going on,” Tyler tried to compact a wide and diverse group of studies into context that a 10-year-old could understand. “Suzy basically is into silt, the really fine gunk that floats through seawater and how it feeds plankton-” Ty saw that he’d lost Luke and summed up, “it’s complicated, and she has to spend a lot of time reading displays and making up charts. While Tom and Linda like to talk about what ‘renaissance scientists’ they are, Suzy really covers ALL the bases.”
<The next shot was of a lean but graceful African girl in her mid-teens with close-cropped hair. She wore a pair of pastel violet jeans, and a white T-shirt with ‘NOT A TOKEN’ in large bold script on it. She was checking a field kit for something.>
“And this is Claire Bernard-Gagny, call sign: ‘Buttercup’, who as she will tell you right up close and in your face, is NOT our resident token black chick.”
“She gets shit for that?” Ray asked.
“YEP,” Tyler responded definitely. “But then, that’s one of the first things they tell you when you’re accepted for the show: no matter who you are, no matter what you do, some crank will take a swipe at you. In person, on the phone, by mail, in print, on the Internet, on Social Media, whatever, there WILL be people who’ll love you and people who’ll hate you, and be very vocal about it. It just goes with the job, so don’t let it get to you.”
“What does she do?” Ray asked with a snarky smirk, “Besides NOT being the token black chick?”
“She’s a Botanist, Microbiologist and Paleontologist.”
“Paleontologist?” Luke piped up, “How do you go from studying plants to studying dinosaurs?”
“She doesn’t just study dinosaurs,” Tyler said. “She’s actually a Paleo-ecologist. That’s someone who studies entire ecologies that happened millions of years ago. Oh, she studied dinosaurs at first, but then she got interested in how you could figure out the entire ecological patterns from fossils and stuff. She’s got this whole big spiel about how the massive die-off of the dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous Period was likely due to a die-off of some keystone factor in the ecology of that period, and how if we can figure out what that keystone factor was, we could figure out the keystone factors of our current ecology are, and we can act to protect them.”
“Okay, not completely over my head,” Mike admitted. “I actually GOT big chunks of that.”
“Dude, I’m a Geologist and a genius, and even I space out when Claire goes off on a real riff,” Tyler said. “It gets worse when she shifts over to going into real detail in French.”
“Why would she do that?” Holly asked.
“Because Claire’s French,” Tyler said. “Her family immigrated from what was then French West Africa sometime just before World War I and they’ve lived in Rouen ever since.”
[Hey, not everyone in France lives in Paris,] Jadis paused. [Though you wouldn’t know it from the way Parisians act.]
<The next shot was of a good-looking, athletic boy of about Tyler’s age wearing a Q-vest over a blue T-shirt with the red Superman S on it, along with a utility belt over denim cutoffs. On his head he wore a cane Stetson hat that went with the rope draped over his left shoulder, but clashed with the Q-Wing flying rig that he was handling>
“And this is Tom Chase, call sign: Cowboy, the star of the show. Or at least according to him, he is.”
“Is he related to Dr. Chase?” Mike related from Jake.
“Her son,” Tyler answered brusquely. “No sign of any super powers, Thank God. He’s hard enough to put up with as it is; who knows what he’d do if he could run at super speeds or fly.”
“Y’mean he got on that show, just ‘cause’a his mom?” Holly asked.
“No, give him his due, Tom’s a legitimate genius with a Stanford-Benet score of 169, Bachelors’ degrees in Organic Chemistry and Physics, an Associate’s degree in Engineering, and a PhD in being a Glory hound. He can fly prop planes, helicopters, pilot speedboats, scuba dive, speak five languages, and sings his own praises in all of them.”
“You don’t like him?” Barbara asked.
“It’s a little hard to really like someone whose kneejerk reflex is to steal your thunder,” Tyler said. “Practically everyone on that boat has an ego, but Tom could have a special barge to tow behind the Diogenes just to hold his.”
<The next shot was of a short, slight boy of maybe 16 who could have been cast as the ‘adorkably sweet brainiac’ in a sitcom. A crown of flopping dark hair surrounded a delicate, sensitive, but not girly face, with large eyes that shone with intelligence, even through the large glasses he wore. He had the basic brain-nerd’s popsicle-stick figure, on which he wore a white linen shirt over a T-shirt that said ‘Do you wanna ROCK?’ over a picture of a rough-hewn stone, and a pair of cut-off cargo pants. He wore a utility belt and several Q-aids clipped to his glasses. He was working on an odd contraption that looked like a miniature boom lift with wheels and robotic arms attached. The camera shifted focus from the boy to the device after a bit. >
“Aaannndd… this is some loser who just wandered onto the boat, and never figured out how to get off again,” Tyler said with wry sarcasm. “Then he wandered off one day, and no one’s really sure what happened to him.”
“Aaawww…” Barb cooed consolingly. “He looks cute. And sweet. And smart. And brave…”
Tyler blushed furiously, and stammered, “And moving right along…”
<The next shot was of a girl, a little on the dumpy side, with shaggy mousy brown hair under a wide brimmed sunhat, sturdy glasses with various Q-gadgets clipped to them, a pair of baggy khaki shorts, a Kiesha t-shirt and a draping denim shirt that hung down to her knees over that. She was fiddling with a Q-tablet and checking something in the Zodiac inflated boats. >
“You know Velma from Scooby-Doo?” Luke asked, wide-eyed.
“You’re hardly the first one to make that joke, Luke,” Tyler said. “Next up is Glynis Davies, call sign: Velma. She’s a Cryptozoologist.”
“She’s a ghost hunter,” Barb said with a smirk.
“I thought that Science said that there are no such things as ghosts,” Mike said skeptically.
“Yes- No-Kinda- it’s complicated,” Tyler squirmed. “While nothing’s been specifically nailed down as the textbook definition of the spirit of a deceased individual, there are over 26 separate and distinct different ‘paranormal phenomena’ that have been identified as being the causes of various haunting and other ghost-identified events.” The kids all just looked at Tyler with ‘What?’ looks.
“What she means,” Becky, one of the counselors on the floor, explained, “Is that there are a bunch of spooky things that they’ve managed to nail down as being behind a bunch of stuff that people say are ghosts, but they haven’t really been able to prove that any of those things are, y’know, people who’ve died.”
“What about that walking pile of junk who works with that superhero team in New York?”
[You mean Junkyard, of the Empire City Guard?] Jadis asked. [Well, the problem with that is that Junkyard was created by being empowered by the Fred Force, and well that throws Scientific Rigor right out the window! Junkyard could be dang near anything, and we still don’t even know what Forces are.]
“How do you know that?”
[We’ve met. Hey, I’m the daughter of Dr. Diabolik and I live in New York City; I’ve found it very useful to be completely read up on anyone who might reasonably try to arrest me. Can we get back to the footage?]
“Right!” Tyler said briskly. “Anyway, besides all the stuff involved with looking for traces of ghosts and like that, Glynis is also a trained biologist, on the grounds that a bunch of the things that people think are ghosts are just various animals and plants and stuff like that that people haven’t picked up on yet. As a matter of fact, Glynn has an animal named after her, Davies’ Swamp Ghost.”
“Oh right!” Barb said, “There was this weird haunting in this old antebellum mansion in Louisiana that you guys were asked to look into. It turned out to be some kind of squid?”
“Octopus,” Tyler corrected her. “We think that it was descended from an exotic species somewhere in the South Pacific, which someone brought back some time in the 1930s. Somehow it- or its ancestor got loose- and bred. The haunting at Ogilvie House was actually caused by a really BIG specimen that had an armspan of over 12 feet.”
“Why would they think that some octopus was a ghost?” Holly asked.
“Well, over the generations, the breed developed a really amazing ability to blend in like a chameleon and an ‘ink’ that caused hallucinations when you touched it. Oh, and it was amphibious, that is that it could crawl out of water onto land and move around. Okay, most octopi can do that last thing, crawl on land for short periods of time, but they really don’t like to do it. But that thing? I watched it crawl over a black & white checkerboard tile floor, and I could barely see it. Creepy as hell. The Swamp Ghosts can live out of water for hours, and will climb up into trees. Anyway it was a big score for Glynis.”
<The next shot was of a large, heavyset but not fat, tow-headed boy wearing a Q-vest over a white T-shirt with a black and white portrait of a man, with baggy olive-drab shorts, sneakers, and a baseball cap. He had the panel of a piece of field electronics open, and he was doing the electronic version of field surgery on it.>
“And this is- or at least was- Hugh Fienberg, call sign: ‘Big Guy’. Engineer, physicist, inventor, and full-time screwball.” Tyler finished with a sad chuckle of fondness and sorrow. “He wanted ‘Bozo’ as his call sign, but they were afraid that that would only encourage him. The reason that they filmed us without us knowing about it for these intro shots, is that Hughie would clown in up for the cameras if he knew they were there. He was almost as bad as Tom Chase and Linda Havoc for taking risks, but he didn’t do it to show other people up, he just did it because he dug it.”
“Who’s the guy on his T-shirt?” Ray asked, “It’s kinda familiar, but I can’t place it.”
“That’s Nichola Tesla, the man who invented Alternating Current, and is generally regarded as the Godfather of Mad Science. Hughie was absolutely certain that he could figure out Tesla’s underlying principle of electrical field interaction, and completely blow the current operating electronic paradigm out of the water.”
The other kids looked at Tyler with that ‘Will you speak ENGLISH?’ look that any precious kid knows all-too well.
“What she means,” Barbara said, “is that that Tesla guy was the guy who invented the AC that is the kind of electricity that we mostly use, like from power sockets and like that? But he was a lot more than that, and there are all these really amazing things that people said that he invented but didn’t patent. What was worse, he had a photographic memory, so he never bothered to write down a bunch of crucial stuff. So we don’t know HOW he did all his really cool stuff. Anyway, Hugh Fienberg is- or errr... was- very amped on the idea of figuring out how Tesla’s stuff really worked, so we could build really cool stuff like the things that Tesla drew pictures of.”
“Very good, Barbara,” Tyler said. “Hughie would have approved.”
Barbara glowed at the praise. “Well, like you said, Hugh liked to talk about it, and he was a really good explainer.”
Tyler nodded sadly and fiddled with the hardlight interface again.
<The next shot was of a lovely girl with waving carrot-red hair wearing a green plaid shirt over a neon orange ‘wetsuit’ type bathing suit with a utility belt strapped around her waist, wearing Q-glasses under a wide straw sunhat, and she had a diving knife dramatically strapped to her right calf. She was doing something to an instrumentation packet that was dangling from a balloon.>
“And thanks to the wonders of alphabetical order, we come to Linda Havoc, call sign: ‘Diva’. Linda is absolutely furious that she comes in after Tom.”
“Yea-up,” Barbara grunted in a flat voice, “She’s a Diva all right, always, ‘oh me-me-me! Lookee Me! Ain’t I smart and cute and badass and so much better than you could ever hope to be?’” Barb finished with a sneer.
[I take it that you’re not the president of her fan club,] Jadis queried wryly.
“No, that would definitely be Linda herself,” Tyler answered. “For those who don’t follow the show, Linda is basically the Feminist version of Tom Chase, the Overachiever’s Overachiever. Bachelor’s degrees in Biology and Engineering, and her father is Professor Miles Hazard, the renowned international Investigative Scientist, and her mother is Gloria Garland, the famous crisis intervention team leader for International Crisis. Linda has five brothers and sisters; she’s the baby of the family and the only one who doesn’t have at least two Masters degrees. YET.”
“Something that she will tell you five minutes after meeting you, I’ll bet,” Barbara said with the same flat disgusted voice.
[In all due fairness, that’s the way she was raised,] Jadis said. [She’s the youngest of six kids, and they were all pretty much raised in the High Academic version of no-holds-barred one-upmanship]
Mike gave Jadis a worried look. “Let me guess: you know her family?”
[I’ve MET her family. I know her sister Melody a lot better. She keeps trying to arrest me. Don’t get me started] Jadis finished with a low, flat warning tone.
“Anyway, Linda and Tom are in a near-perpetual state of competition with each other, which is natural because Linda’s just as big a glory hound as he is. Oh, and neither one’s averse to stealing the spotlight from anyone else. There’s a betting pool on the boat as to whether or not it’s some kind of weird twisted flirting/dominance ritual, and if so when one or the other will finally give in.”
“And you and the other guys on the ship put up with this shit?” Jake asked, via Mike.
“It would be nice to have a choice in the matter,” Tyler sighed. “The rest of us would vote BOTH of them off the boat in a second if we thought we could get away with it. But they’re big drama, and Ellsworth and Lennox don’t just let them get away with that crap, they encourage it.”
“Well, that’s Show Biz…” Ray mused.
<The next shot was, in stark contrast to the attractive kids who’d been shown thus far, was of a scrawny boy who could have been sent from Central Casting to play the cliché ‘annoying arrogant science geek’ on a sitcom. Or possibly Ichabod Crane from ‘the Legend of Sleepy Hollow’. He was tall, thin, gangly, had a prominent nose with a pair of glasses that had various Q-gadgets clipped to them. He wore a kepi-like billed cap with a cloth covering the back of his neck. He was wearing a white linen shirt over a t-shirt that said, ‘fools! I’ll destroy you all! Ask me how!’ He was fiddling around with a set of bottles and tubes all connected by plastic tubing and held together by a bracket.>
“And this is Logan Hogan, call sign: ‘Toxic’. Bachelor’s degrees in Biology, Biophysics, Organic Chemistry and Inorganic Chemistry, with Associates’ degrees in Engineering and Physics. And yes, looks do not deceive, he IS a genius; just ask him, he’ll tell you about it for hours…”
“_Logan_ Hogan_?” Ray asked with a pained note.
“What can I say? Parents can be cruel.”
“Is he really as big a dickhead as he looks on the show?” Barbara asked.
“Not really,” Tyler admitted. “He has his regular guy moments, but Lennox tends to edit those out and focus on the times when he has screaming diva fits. Which do happen, but nowhere near as often as you’d think from the show. Besides, over the last year, Logan’s actually relaxed a little and grown a sense of humor. I think being away from his parents is good for the ol’ Loogie. And God knows Logan carries his own weight. If Tom and Linda’s showing off is good for anything, it’s prodding the rest of us into upping our game so that ‘Wiz Kids’ doesn’t become ‘the Tom and/or Linda Show’.”
“How could he carry his own weight?” Luke asked. “He doesn’t look like he can carry his own pillow!”
“Oh, Logan is, like, the KING of McGyvering- er, that’s throwing a bunch of stuff that’s handy around mixing it all together and coming up with something really useful. He’s saved our bacon more than once.”
“You mean, like that time in Dr. Pellagean’s underwater lab, when you were trapped, and Logan came up with an acid that ate through the floor?” Barbara bubbled.
“Actually, it was a super-oxidant that rusted through the floor, but yeah,” Tyler nodded. “He almost gassed us with the byproduct fumes, but we got out of it.”
<The next shot was of an entirely different sort altogether. The boy was more of a young man, an athletic young demigod with dark short hair, classic angular Latin features, olive complexion, a quick smile and a general sense of easy confidence. He wore a tank top T-shirt with the indicia of the Universidad de Buenos Aires, specifically the Facultad de Ciencias Exactas y Naturales and a blue pair of swim trunks. He was checking something on a computer readout, and speaking into a headset. Then he turned and shouted something to Suzy Becker, who blushed and grinned back at him.>
“And this is- or again, was- Leonardo Bautista Rivera y Pereya, or just ‘Leo’ to those of us who knew him.”
“Oh, GAWD, he is SO GORGEOUS!” Barbara gushed. She wilted slightly when she remembered that not only was Leonardo Rivera dead, but Tyler was accused of killing him.
“Anyway, besides being gorgeous, Leo was an expert diver and boat and drone handler, had an IQ of 181, Bachelors’ in Biophysics and Marine Biology, and Associates’ degrees in Botany, Oceanic Hydrology and Organic Chemistry. His big thing was that he was trying to figure out why whales beach themselves. Oh, and his call sign was ‘Gaucho’.”
“’Gaucho’?” Ray echoed. “Isn’t that a little stereotypical?”
“Hey, it was Leo’s idea!” Tyler insisted. “Besides, you gotta remember that for Argentines, the Gaucho is this big cultural icon, like the Cowboy is for Americans and the Vaquero is for Mexicans, and for very similar reasons.”
[And how did you feel about Leonardo Rivera?] Jadis asked.
“To be honest- I was so green with envy, I could’a passed for a string bean,” Tyler admitted. “I mean, Leo was good-looking, athletic, fun to be around, and he had the girl that every other boy on the ship was panting for as a sweetheart! Tom and Linda have to work to make you feel inferior; Leo just had to walk up on deck.”
“Yeah,” Barbara let out a resigned sigh.
“If he’d had money, there would have been no living with him,” Tyler continued.
“Really?” Barbara said. “I thought that he had money.”
“No, his family isn’t poor or anything, just middle class, I’d say,” Tyler said. “He was just very good at letting rich Argentines put him up in luxury hotels and take him out to expensive restaurants, in exchange for their being seen with a mid-level national hero.”
<The next shot was of a slender, graceful Asian ethnic girl of roughly the same age as all the others. Her hair was long and pulled up into a ponytail under a cane cowboy hat. She wore a white embroidered long-sleeved shirt over a T-shirt that said, ‘You only WISH that I was a token’, and jeans cut off at the knee. She was working at a laptop that was connected to the balloon-mounted instrumentation packet that Linda Havoc was working on>
“And this is Isabelle Zheng, or Izzy or IZ as we call her,” Tyler said. “Call sign: ‘Zebra’.
“What’s her big thing?” Ray asked. “Computers?”
“Yes- No-Kinda-Sorta, same ballpark,” Tyler answered. “She’s into Math, Anthropology, Cryptography, Computer Programming, Archaeology and Astronomy, Sociology and Psychology.” Ty looked around her and got a pretty blanket ‘hah?’ looks, even from Barb, who was familiar with IZ. “She’s into LANGUAGES, not just learning how to read or speak them, but all the weird stuff that goes into both written and spoken communications.”
“So how does Math come up with languages and crap?” Luke asked with an undertone of the Math phobia that is all-too common in American children.
“Well, as Izzy likes to say, Math is really a language,” Tyler answered. “A very precise language that doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room. Also, there’s a saying that ‘Mathematics is the Queen of the Sciences’; that’s because in Science, Hard Science, everything can be boiled down to a mathematical formula.”
Seeing that Tyler had pretty much lost her audience, Jadis interjected, [And what’s she like as a person?]
“Oh, that’s one thing that Lennox didn’t have to fudge anything about,” Tyler said, “Izzy’s a real Mexican spitfire. She knows that she’s a genius, and she don’t take guff from anyone.”
“Mexican spitfire?” Luke asked with confusion, “But she’s Chinese!”
“Izzy’s a fifth generation Mexican national from Juarez, right across the border from El Paso, Texas,” Tyler explained. “She’s from a huge extended family of doctors, lawyers, teachers and like that. She picked up a lot of the local ‘don’t take crap off’a the gringos’ attitude. Oh, and she can tell good dirty jokes in 12 different languages, including Ancient Greek and Nuahtl.”
“Do you have any idea how hard it is to tell a joke in a foreign language?”
“Okay, so she’s good with Math and languages,” Mike said with a flat sneer. “So What?”
“Hey, don’t diss the I-Z,” Barb said with a sharp lopsided smile. “She’s stolen the spotlight from Cowboy and Diva more than once. There is sharp, there is hella sharp, and then there is Zebra! She doesn’t know kung fu, but she doesn’t NEED to know Kung Fu!”
“Yeah,” Tyler said with a fond sigh, “Izzy really knows how to shine without pushing everyone else out of the picture. Well, unless it’s necessary, and with Tom and Linda, it’s necessary all-too often.”
“If she’s so dang smart, how come she can’t figure out that you didn’t kill Leo?” Ray asked, looking at the image skeptically.
“Most likely for the same reason that none of us figured out who shoved Leo into that adaptation chamber two weeks before: we were told to back off. We were all suspects, and anything that anyone came up with would be just as suspect.”
<The next scene focused on the scissors-lift model robotic drone as it ‘played’ with a black Schipperke breed dog, holding up a doggie treat and playing keepaway with it >
“GURD!” Barb blurted.
“Gerd?” Luke echoed.
“The robot,” Tyler explained. “It stands for General Use Remote Drone.”
“It’s called an acronym,” Holly told Luke superiorly.
“GURD is an all-purpose hazardous duty remote unit that we send into really dangerous situations like extreme heat or toxic fumes or like that,” Tyler said. “For some reason, it’s developed its own following, like ‘Buster’ the crash test dummy on Mythbusters™.”
“Why? They’ve got a dog,” Luke pointed out with unarguable logic.
[Because they can’t mass-market toy replicas of Cisco, the ship’s dog] Jadis pointed out [the GURD replica toys are a solid seller, and they’re talking about using the GURD name to market household helper drones, once they get the programming and heuristics figured out. Now can we get to the stuff that I actually called about?]
“Right!” Tyler said, fiddling away at the hard light interface. “Taking this in chronological order-”
“That means ‘in the order that it happened’,” Holly smugly explained to Luke.
“Here’s the first drone flyover footage,” Tyler said, putting up images of a dense but low-height forest. “Note the massive foliage, mostly shrubbery but with a thick canopy of taller Arecaceae.”
“WHAT?” Mike peeped, with Jake nodding vigorously.
[Botanical Geek Speak] Jadis said. [She just said that all that was mostly palm trees, which are the family Arecaceae, and don’t just grow tall and spindly, but take on all kinds of forms, like shrubs and so on]
“SO?” Ray asked.
“SO, La Isla Malditas had only been out from underwater for less than a month,” Tyler pointed out. “It should only have some sea grass, some moss and lichen growing on it, and a few shrubs and like that. But look at it! It’s a freaking jungle down there!”
“So, how did all those plants get there?” Barb asked, peering at the image.
“Well, a major point was that the dominant spread- er, that most of those plants are Arecaceae, that is, some form of palm trees. Palm trees are hella adaptable, and they grow quickly, and they have some very interesting reactions to various forms of exotic stimulus.”
[‘Exotic Stimulus’ being a catch-all phrase for all kinds of weirdness] Jadis explained.
“Yeah, more’n likely the palm trees and shrubs and like that that were reacting to whatever was forcing the island up from the bottom of the Caribbean.”
“So…” Holly wrestled to wrap her head around that, “whatever dragged the island up out of the water also made all those plants grow real fast?”
“Close enough for a talk show,” Tyler nodded. “Okay, Miss Frost, next we have roughly 5 hours of Claire and Suzy wandering around taking samples of various adaptations of Arecaceae, and Logan and me doing the same for soil samples. Okay, hardcore Botany and Geology wonks might find it interesting, but for everyone else we’re talking electronic Roofie here. It would put almost anyone right to sleep.”
[Spare us all and skip ahead] Jadis allowed.
“Okay, unless you tell me otherwise, I’m skipping over to what I’m guessing is the first part of what you’re interested in. That is, unless you really want to check out two hours of Tom and Linda bickering at each other, or maybe 20 minutes of Leo and Suzy grabbing a few stolen moments of passion together?”
<The shot showed Claire Gagny-Bernard doing some sort of quickie tissue sample comparison on site with a group of the larger palms. Then she reacted to something and looked off. “Central, I have movement,” she said, peering off into the shrubbery. “Hello? Is anyone there? Central, is any of our crew in my sector?” She advanced waving a sensor wand in front of her. “Central, I have movement. I know that I saw something moving through the undergrowth, but I’m not seeing any tracks.” From there, the visual narrative flowed through the Wiz Kids, and ‘Ace’ Newell and his two-man security detail tearing through the undergrowth trying to catch someone or something, or several someones or things, as there were sightings and reports all over the place. Then Glynis, who had been consulting some sort of esoteric electronic device, managed to corner something and get a clear shot with a pistol-grip combination digital and film camera>
“Why film?” Holly asked.
[Footage shot on film is a hundred times more believable than digital footage,] Jadis explained. [But you don’t have to wait hours for digital footage to be developed]
<An inset appeared next to where Glynis was standing in a frozen shot, and expanded to fill the screen. It was an awkwardly placed shot of a figure out of Halloween, a wispy specterish figure with a shroudlike main form, a skull like visage wrapped in a hood, a pair of skeletal hands, and no visible feet. The eyes of the skull glowed with a baleful red flame, and gave the general impression off a malign intelligence.>
Despite themselves, the kids gave a reflexive group pause, but Jadis merely replied, [Ah, the Wraith Queen! And with the island rising up that way, can the Stone King be that far away?]
There was a collective ‘Hah?’ from the kids. “You… know them?” Ray asked.
Jadis waggled her hand. [I’ve met them a couple of times. In my line of work, I meet a lot of… interesting… people under interesting conditions]
“Let me guess,” Mike said dryly, “They’re actually very nice people, once you get to know them.”
[No, as a matter of fact, the general first impression that they give is as a pair of obnoxious, arrogant, bullying nutcases, and it goes downhill at an appalling rate from there,] Jadis said just as dryly. [Both the Stone King and the Wraith Queen are a kind of psychic, with telepathic, clairvoyant and telekinetic abilities. That ‘wraith’ is the main card of the Wraith Queen. It’s really just a psychokinetic manifestation- er, that means that the Wraith Queen can move things around with the power of her mind, and she can use that power to form those things pretty much out of nothing. She can animate those things and control them from a distance and ‘see’ through their eyes. She can do a lot more, but those things are her Ace-in-the-Hole. Her husband, the Stone King, iiisss….] Jadis searched around for a telling phrase or context. [Ah! He’s like an Earth Bender]
“Y’mean… he can move earth and rock and like that with the power of his mind?” Barb asked. “He can kick big honking boulders around, like Toph?”
Jadis locked for a moment on ‘Toph’, and visibly scoured her memory for the reference, as she clearly wasn’t a regular watcher of ‘Avatar: the Last Airbender’. Then it clicked for her and she said, [Yes, but the Stone King can see and stands Six-foot- six. And he’s nowhere near as pleasant as Toph.] Barb and the other kids waded through some awkward silence at that. [Hey, you can’t like everyone you meet in my line of business]
“Okay, since you’ve blown the big reveal, why don’t we fast-forward through a couple of hours of retread Scooby-Doo?” Tyler suggested.
[Jinkies, if you really think so,] Jadis responded coyly, secure again on her cultural footing.
“Okay, for you guys, the next big part of this is basically the Wraith Queen chasing us around the island and picking us off one at a time, with her ‘wraiths’ disappearing just as Dr. Chase or Mr. Newell and his security team get there. Also there were a lot of mysterious stones suddenly popping up from out of the ground. Not when we could see them, just one second there’s nothing there, but when you turn around, there’s this weird stele with bizarre markings on it that drove Izzy right around the bend. Ah! We actually have footage of one of the disappearances! It’s Tom, of course. He always has to have a camera recording his every move for posterity. He probably has video footage of him being potty trained.”
<The image showed Tom Chase stalking through the undergrowth, waving a general purpose sensor with one hand, as he held his trademark (or at least what he was pushing as his trademark) lariat in the other. He paused on one sandy stretch of ground and checked his sensor again. Then, suddenly, he was sucked down into the ground, leaving only his Stetson hat, his lariat and his sensor unit to show that he’d ever been there.>
“By the way, that scene was cut from footage from four different drones,” Tyler explained. “And, speaking of that, here’s a big scene cut from no less than twenty different cameras.”
Ty was about to say something else when Ray cut her off. “Luke, your light is blinking.” Sure enough, a LED on Luke’s shoulder was blinking through the blanket. Luke let out a gleep and ran at full speed to a door, which he entered and shut.
[What was that?] Jadis asked.
Ray explained about Luke’s condition. “That’s a special room they built. It’s designed with a Faraday cage and some other stuff, so kids like Luke can let out a pulse or whatever and not irradiate everything, or blow out all the circuitry.”
When Luke came back out, Tyler said, “Thank you for hurrying. The last thing I need is for this thing to fry, and for the old folks to drag their feet for weeks getting a replacement. And in thanks for your considerate speed, here’s a scene just for you.”
<The scene showed Dr. Chase, Eric Newell, and three security agents watching Tyler as he intently studied a tall slab of stone with strange figures and characters along one side, using GURD to run a portable spectral analyzer over the stone. But Tyler himself was pouring over the characters> “Okay, for clarity- that means that you all understand what’s going on- the reason that I’m looking at the writing on that block instead of IZ- besides the fact that she’s MIA- is that that stele is a particulate stone- that’s a kind of rock that’s formed when a bunch of particles, like sand, get stuck together. There are three big problems with that: One, that kind of particulate doesn’t form in the Caribbean; Two, the people who carve messages in stone don’t use limestone or other particulate stones ‘cause they erode real easily; and Three, what I’m checking out right here is that those images are BRAND NEW. Just been formed and clear as a bell! There is NO WAY that thing’s been underwater for 40 years!”<Then there was motion in the underbrush, Newell and the Security types reacted and suddenly six wraith figures emerge from the underbrush. Newell and the security agents all drew guns and aimed them at the wraiths, while Dr. Chase shielded Tyler with her body, setting him against the stele.
Newell and the Security agents fired at the wraiths, pretty much wasting ammunition, but letting the other Security units and the people on the Diogenes know that something was going down. They had better luck with hand-to-hand, but even that was pointless. While all of this was going down, Tyler was cautiously waving a sensor wand over the scene and doing furious calculations on his Q-phone. After throwing Newell and his backup around, the wraiths advanced on Dr. Chase, who lifted a large stone out of the ground and pretty much pulverized one of the wraiths with it. Then the rest of the wraiths stepped in, and the fight went to hand-to-hand.
As Dr. Chase was doing this, Tyler was frantically cobbling bits and pieces of this and that, including a water bottle, onto the GURD unit>
“What’re you doing there?” Mike asked.
“Well, while I’m not in Logan’s class when it comes to MacGyvering, I DO have my moments,” Tyler said with a smirk. “The Wraith things had a particular electro-magnetic signature- sorry, that means that I bounced a radio wave off them, and got a very specific reading off of them. The wraiths were absorbing certain kinds of light and radio waves in a certain way. BUT, if something absorbs light or radio waves, then you can affect them with other light or radio waves. What I’m doing is adjusting a Q-laser-”
“Q-laser?” Holly peeped, “Is that a special kind of laser?”
“Yes and No,” Barbara said. “Y’see, lasers are real versatile- you can do all KINDS of stuff with ‘em, but they have to be set to very particular frequencies and stuff. But you can’t be dragging around a hundred different laser things out in the field, just ‘cause you might need this ONE kind of laser. Well, you CAN, but it’s hella expensive. So the people at the Quest Institute designed this laser that can be adjusted so’s you can get any laser or maser- a maser’s like a laser, only with microwaves- setting that you’d need for whatever.”
“Thank you, Barb,” Tyler said. “You may have a future in explaining Science and Technology to people. There IS a living to be made doing that. Anyway, what I’m doing is setting the Q-laser to a microwave setting that won’t heat the water, but super-charge it. And-”
<Tyler finished his adjustments, picked up GURD and pointed it at the wraith that was coming straight for them. GURD sprayed the wraith with some aerated water. The wraith stopped and started jerking around. Tyler waved that wand at it again, and fiddled with the Q-laser. Then GURD sprayed the wraith again, and it did a slow melt. Tyler made a few more adjustments, and this time, the incoming wraith melted like a spun-sugar angel with a high pressure hose on it.>
“See?” Holly said to Luke, “That’s what you can do when you do your homework.” Luke’s only response was a dignified razzberry.
<The wraiths broke off from fighting Dr. Chase and Newell’s security team and advanced on Tyler. So he scrambled up on top of the stele and dragged GURD up with him. Then he kept squirting wraiths until the water gave out. He was frantically fitting his own water bottle into the reservoir, when the stele lurched and just dropped down into the ground, taking Tyler and GURD along with it. The sandy soil closed up after them, and Dr. Chase, Newell and his security team were left gaping at the hole as the wraiths closed in around them.>
“What?” Ray said, “What happened?”
“I got disappeared, just like the others,” Tyler said. “The ground under that spot was sandy, like a beach, and the Stone King was able to pull that stele down into it, and it took me and GURD along for the ride. Fortunately, something about how he did that created an air pocket as a side effect, so I didn’t have to hold my breath for that long.”
<Dr. Chase pawed at the ground where the stele had disappeared. Then a huge stone hand reached up out of that same hole and grabbed Dr. Chase. Then it dragged her down as well.>
“Is there any footage of what happened to you next?” Barb asked avidly.
“yeeaahhh… there should be…” Tyler said as she peered at her monitor and poked at the hardlight interface. “GURD is equipped with five different cameras- small cameras, but very good quality ones- and it has a recording bank that can hold a couple of days worth of footage. But I’m not finding it.”
[You’re supposed to have complete access to the video logs,] Jadis said.
“Like that means sh-er, shoot, with Lennox,” Tyler said, quickly amending it for Luke and Holly.
[I take it that he’s of the ‘it’s easier to get forgiveness than permission’ school?] Jadis asked puckishly.
“No, he’s more of the ‘do whatever you want and ignore all complaints, but scream like a scalded cat if anyone does anything to you’ school,” Tyler riposted.
“Do you honestly think that this Lennox guy would ignore a court order like that?” Becky, the counselor who’d been following all this, asked.
“Without blinking an eye,” Ty answered. “Lennox is covered, he knows it, and if anything, I’d say he loves flaunting it every chance he gets.”
[So, keeping that in mind, what are you going to do?] Jadis prompted Tyler.
“I don’t have time to wait for Lennox to finally give up the footage,” Tyler said, working it out out-loud. “Besides, Lennox is such a weasel that I can’t trust him to turn over footage that wasn’t doctored somehow. I don’t know WHY he’d doctor the footage, but he’s done a lot of crap that I still don’t understand. I have clearance to acquire any footage I need, so I’m saying that that counts as permission. I have a bunch of people watching me, so it’s not like I’m doing this unsupervised. So I go in. On the upside, while Lennox is a genius weasel and camera monkey, he’s strictly average on the net. Okay, what would IZ do?” Digging in deep, Tyler remembered a bunch of times when Izzy had shown off her cyber-savvy. She accessed browser histories, inventory manifests, and found a few ‘side doors’ that various people probably would deny existed. She found Lennox’s personal history on his system, which it seemed hadn’t been cleared since he got that computer.
But that took the better part of an hour, and Tyler had lost most of her audience by that time. “Okay, Miz Frost- you wanna tell me what you called to see, or you wanna take it chronologically, and run the risk that the kids will wander in with a lot of questions?”
[As a matter of fact, you’re getting to the part that I was going to ask about anyway,] Jadis said. [Continue chronologically, so I’m not leading you.]
“Okay, normally I’d let the footage speak for itself, but this part is pretty fragmented. I dunno how Lennox is gonna get around it. He…ck, that may be why he isn’t finished; he hasn’t found a way to get this footage to work without massive narrative exposition.”
<Next came a jumbled series of clips with the Wiz Kids in various deathtrap situations, which weren’t completely clear to the viewer>
“Okay, so, here’s the narrative explanation: the Stone King put each of the Wiz Kids into ‘Solve this puzzle or DIE’ deathtraps. And the fact that we all got out of that- at least that set of puzzles- alive says a lot about how smart we really are. But Lennox was furious! Someone had put us in dangerous, possibly lethal situations and he had NO INPUT on it!”
[Okay, the Stone King is many things, most of which I can’t say in front of minors, but he’s not the kind of bozo who plays sadistic games with his prisoners,] Jadis said. [So what was he up to?]
“Just a second… Crap, it’s not there! Lennox removed the file! ALL the files from that segment! He’s not supposed- screw it, he does whatever he wants… No, wait!” Tyler grinned evilly. “Oh, I got you this time, Lennox. He deleted the file, but like most people who don’t really understand computers, he thinks that if you ‘delete’ a file, it just goes ‘poof!’”
[But it doesn’t,] Jadis said with a matching smirk, [it just removes the placeholder tab, and if you don’t overwrite the file regions…]
“Going through the work history file archives that Lennox doesn’t have access to, for very good reasons…” Tyler said, typing furiously. “And there it is! And like Lazarus, rising from the Dead…”<The file showed a rather fuzzy image of boxy, antique-looking device about the size of a large office desk, maybe two of them stacked one on top the other, with two large globular appendages sticking out from the central mass and a dome on the top. Then there was a shift in perspective, and you could see Tyler squatting, furiously fiddling with the strange object as a huge stone slowly, inexorably, torturously lowered, as to crush him. Then, just as the slab was pushing down on his back, Tyler did something with the device, and first the slab rose, and then a hole punched in the side of the chamber. Tyler climbed out and then reached back into to drag the camera out of the chamber.
<From there were several shots with Tyler freeing first Isobel, then Logan, and then Hugh. There were shots of the four alternating between freeing more Wiz Kids and comparing notes on how they escaped. After Hugh made a comment on his ordeal, Tyler had the look on his face of someone who was putting parts of a puzzle together. Then Tyler yelled, “Hughie, Logan, free the others! Izzy, find Dr. Chase and get her out of whatever they shoved her into.”
<“What are you gonna do?” Logan demanded.
<“I’m gonna change the rules of the game!”
<then Tyler ran off and found the very cell that he’d escaped from. Without the threat of the descending slab, he fiddled with globe/desk arrangement again. Finally, he got what he wanted, and the camera shook, with the implication that the ground was shaking as well. Then Tyler ran as though the devil himself was on his heels>
“What did you DO?” Barb asked, watching the footage with bafflement.
“I changed the conditions of the contest,” Tyler said, sitting back with a smug grin on her face. “That thing was what the Stone King really wanted on that island. It’s the gadget that DAGGER, that 1960s criminal spy syndicate, used to raise la Isla Maldita in the first place. Something that could do that, especially with 1960s technology, is something that he’d want BAD. But, I’m guess that when he found it, he couldn’t figure it out. Then a bunch of meddling kids and their robot come along. Meddling kids, who happen to be geniuses, including a genius Geologist. So, he puts them in death traps that involve different things about DAGGER’s technology to get out. That meant that however it worked, the Stone King couldn’t use his ‘Earth Bending’ with it. So, I set it to sink the island. BUT, the part I’m lugging around would stabilize the immediate area, making me very safe to be near.”
“So, suddenly, the Stone King has a lot better things to do than play sick games with a bunch of kids,” Ray said, nodding.
<From there, the footage followed the various groups of Wiz Kids as they made their way through the tunnels. Leo, Suzy, Glynis and Logan found themselves trapped by a trio of wraiths. Leo grabbed a 2x4 and was about to lay into the spooks, when Dr. Chase broke through one of the walls with the look of an angry mother lioness on her face. Suzy and Glynis had to drag Leo out of the fray, but they did manage to get past the synthetic spooks and up into the open air. The ground trembled, and the kids still in the tunnels were almost buried in collapsing sections, until Tyler and Hugh came along. The shaking stopped when Tyler showed up and fiddled with the dingus, and Hugh helped the other Wiz Kids out of the rubble. There was a moment where it was clear that Tom and Linda’s furious rivalry had gotten them into an absurd situation where neither would run while the other one was hanging tough. Tyler and Hugh found them like that. After a long shared silent ‘should we or shouldn’t we?’ moment. Tyler settled that by saying, “It’s tempting, but we’d regret it later.”
<“Mmmaaaannn…” Hugh whined, but together they pulled both Tom and Linda out of the mess their egos were getting them into. Hugh and Tyler got Tom and Linda out of the tunnels, and there was a very dramatic moment as the four sprinted for the beach with the island shaking furiously around them. They made it to the beach, where Dr. Chase was starting to push one of the heavy Zodiac inflatable boats into the water>
“What’s the matter?” Barb asked, indicating the spirited if untimely last-second debate by the Zodiacs.
“The inevitable dramatic last-minute complication,” Tyler droned. “I wonder how Lennox orchestrated it. There isn’t enough room in the Zodiacs for everyone.”
“Then dump some of the gear!” Mike said, Jake nodding.
“Philistine!” Tyler humphed drolly. “Civilians have no appreciation for how scientists feel about their equipment. Besides, there still wouldn’t be enough room in only those two for us all, even if we dumped the gear.”
“Then how’d you get all that stuff onto the island?” Holly asked.
“There was a third Zodiac, which left just as we were hitting the beach.”
“No there wasn’t,” Ray said sturdily. Tyler paused the clip and rewound it. There was no sign of the third Zodiac, which she remembered had been a topic of no small discussion at the time. Then again, there were no Audio clips mentioning the missing third Zodiac either.
[Tyler, scan that entire section of that clip for any signs of editing,] Jadis instructed.
“On it,” Tyler said. She furiously put over a dozen different robots on it. After a few minutes Tyler huffed, “Woof! This section has had more surgery done on it than Michael Jackson! A big chunk of the section before Hugh, Linda, Tom and I got to the beach was completely cut out, the third Zodiac was carefully removed, and a ton of minor touches, like shadows and persnickety little details, were very carefully covered up. BUT, for a guy who’s always yapping about what a perfectionist he is, Lennox got a little sloppy. He left tags for a few of those persnickety little details, so he could finish them later. And I have ‘Send To’ addies for those persnickety little details.” Tyler quickly checked them. “And I have extensive files. On the Quest Foundation database. Where I have clear access to all files,” Tyler finished with a wicked grin.
[NO!] Jadis said strongly, not quite shouting [Do NOT access those files!]
[We’re talking about electronic files. If there is any hint of tampering, any hint at ALL, then any credibility they have is SHOT! Tyler, copy out all your files onto a thumb drive or a disk. Miss! What’s your name?]
”Becky. Becky Suchon.”
[Miss Suchon, I want to you to take that that laptop to whoever you use as a Notary, and have that thing sealed! I want it kept in a safe until a Bonded Legal Courier can come to pick it up and deliver it to Anchorage.]
“Is this really that important?” Becky asked warily.
[YES. Tyler, you have found something important. But you’re not off the hook yet. The pressure to get you convicted of Experimenting on Leonardo will let up some, but you’re still their prime suspect. I think you’ve found what I called you to find, but it doesn’t touch directly on Rivera’s murder. You still need to find something that will ideally disprove the allegations they've been slinging at you, or at least derail their case. Miss Suchon? Would you please issue Tyler a new laptop and let her continue her research?]
“Mrs. Cannon won’t like it,” Becky said, feeling uneasily caught between two forces in a matter she had little interest and no power in.
[If she kicks up a fuss, just have her call Tyler’s lawyer,] Jadis said with a prim feline smirk.
“Becky… do Mrs. Cannon a favor, and just get me the laptop,” Tyler suggested.
[And Becky?] Jadis’ feline smirk went predatory. [This matter is confidential and NOT a topic for casual conversation. Given the… discreet… nature of your line of work, I think that you could understand the negative impact on your career, if you got a reputation for being… indiscreet.]
Tyler could see on the counselor’s face Becky putting together bits and piece of base gossip and newsblurbs about Jadis Diabolik. “I’ll… get that laptop to the Base Recorder,” she said. “Ty? Why don’t you burn that disk, while I get you a replacement laptop?”
“But what about the end of the show?” Luke demanded, “You were just getting to the best part!”
Jadis shrugged. [Might as well]
Tyler burned a recovery disk, and then restarted the video clip. <Even after tossing a lot of expensive gear, there wasn’t enough room on the Zodiacs for all of them. Dr. Chase offered to swim to the ship. Hugh Fienberg picked up one of the discarded Q-Wing powered gliders, and assumed a superheroic ‘up, up, and away!’ pose. And if Hugh was going to do something heroic, there was no way that Tom was going to be outshone, so he shouldered a Q-Wing onto his shoulders. And if Tom was going to heroically endanger himself for the team, then Linda would endanger herself not only heroically, but with STYLE!
<Dr. Chase, who was shouldering one of the Zodiacs into the water by this time, told them that if they were going to do it, to fly as close to the water as they could.>
“But, of course, they didn’t,” Tyler ground out. “There wasn’t anything fun or outrageous about playing it safe. Tom shot up as high as he possibly could, and then Linda did the same, and Hughie was doing fucking barrel rolls…”
<the shot was from the bow of the Zodiac as the boat hurried away from the island. The palms were shaking vigorously. Then there was a huge explosion that blew the not-quite-mountain apart and visibly shook the flimsy craft. A clearly inserted shot of the three Q-Wings in flight showed them almost knocked out of the sky. Tom Chase managed to right himself, but Linda Havoc collided with Hugh, and they both went down.
<They both landed with a splash just before the huge wave from the collapse of the island hit. “HUGHIE!” Tyler screamed just before he threw himself into the water and clawed his way through the waves to his friend’s side. Dr. Chase and Newell were right behind him. Tyler was holding Hugh’s body, keeping his head out of the water, frantically pleading with him to wake up, to snap out of it, to be alive, dammit. Tyler begged, pleaded, sobbed for Hughie to wake up. He willfully ignored the impossible kink in Hugh’s neck, and clung to him as Dr. Chase dragged both of them back to the Zodiac>
Tyler stared ahead of her blankly, tears streaming from her eyes, a look on her face like she’d been kicked in the stomach. She hadn’t realized that he’d been screaming…
“Miss Dia-er, Frost, I think this call is over for the day,” Becky said in her best ‘I’m the adult here’ voice. She ejected the disk from the R/W drive. “I’ll get this laptop to the Base Legal Officer as soon as I can. Barb? Would you go get Rachel? I don’t think that Tyler will be doing any more work today.” With a gentle firmness born of practice, Becky steered Tyler to her room. Tyler said nothing, but it was clear even to Luke that she was scourging herself with a red-hot ‘If Only’.