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NEW VINDICATORS: Tabula Rasa #3 (Parts I-III)

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  • NEW VINDICATORS: Tabula Rasa #3 (Parts I-III)

    Oubliette-731: An alternate reality where the death of one boy set off a chain of events that led to a world that eventually came to accept and embrace Neo-Sapiens. No Adonis Skraag means no Affiliation and no White War; no assassination of Senator Bedford; no Black Box; no Apocatastasis; no Neo-Sapien diaspora; no Basileus...

    It's a clean slate for our heroes.

    In the year 2025, a new class of students is enrolled in the New Vindicators Academy, where they learn that sometimes, the more things change, the more they stay the same...

    The Story

    The PCs
    • Cyndi Brightman: Daughter of billionaire winemaker; kind of a handful; makes it dark
    • John Saxon: Pop culture nerd; devil-may-care attitude; gets big
    • Dirk Wolfram: Sheltered kid; doesn't own a cell phone; reaches the top shelf with ease
    • Eric Vaughn: Hacker; inquisitive; team taxi
    • Derryl Isaacson: Mysterious; writes numbers all over his hand; hears really well
    • Matt Baker: Oblivious; doesn't like wearing shirts; token plasma generator
    • Gene Stephenson: Aloof; not very charismatic; bred to kill stuff
    Last edited by Michuru81; 11-03-2015, 02:16 PM.
    Armada Status

  • #2
    Season One

    TABULA RASA #1: Joss—In 2025, a new group of students enrolls at the New Vindicators Academy of America, only to find that their school year is about to be anything but ordinary.

    TABULA RASA #2: Corrode—Eric smells a conspiracy and pulls some of his classmates into the web of intrigue, while Jim and Cyndi’s double date with Matt and Aisha is interrupted by a jealous ex…

    TABULA RASA #3: Teamwork—The newest students of the New Vindicators are sorted into their training squadrons: meet the Jolly Ranchers, the New Guys, the Ferocious Four, and Team Eleven.

    TABULA RASA #4: Ransom—When the Pinuno, leader of a criminal organization known as Kapisanan, sets his sights on Cyndi, he hires a pair of mercenaries to infiltrate the school—and one of them has a history with Gene…

    TABULA RASA #5: Mountaineering—Some people spend years preparing to climb Mount Everest. When they begin the ascent, they are outfitted with coats, rope, oxygen, tents, food—everything one would need to survive in one of the most inhospitable places on Earth. When John and Dirk wake up on one of Everest’s highest peaks, they’ll be forced to survive with nothing but their pajamas.

    TABULA RASA #6: Network—Hacker and internet vigilante, the Radical Tomato, has a new target… and just when Eric thought his life couldn’t get more complicated.

    TABULA RASA #7: Paternity—Enter: Eduardo Palacio, a Spanish model whose visage has graced scores of romance novels has come to town. Exit: everything one young hero thought he knew about his genealogy…

    TABULA RASA #8: Twister—Cyndi’s made her share of enemies. Now, one threatens to hit her where it hurts, and destroy her family’s vineyards.

    TABULA RASA #9: Vigilante—Shadow Wing is a vigilante and internet celebrity who’s doing more harm than good. When he crosses paths with several of the New Vindicators’ foes, it’ll be up to the young heroes to save him and the day.

    TABULA RASA #10: Masks—Josie Loder’s Sweet Sixteen party is a murder mystery party, but while the New Vindicators try to crack the case, Jim begins to make his move…

    TABULA RASA #11: Jailbreak—Over the course of their first semester, the New Vindicators have made several enemies. Now, those who have escaped justice have banded together, and are looking to recruit from those who were not so fortunate…

    TABULA RASA #12: Blood—Sanguine has been cornered, and the Vindicators need Eric’s help to bring her to justice. When Derryl tags along, however, the New Guys make a shocking discovery about Missus Jenkins’ death…
    Last edited by Michuru81; 11-03-2015, 11:12 AM.
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    • #3
      Tabula Rasa #3, Part I

      Tabula Rasa #3: Teamwork
      Cyndi gazed down into the palm of her hand, flexing her fingers. It was hard to believe that just last night, she had lost a few inches from each phalange, just by touching her roommate’s ex-boyfriend. It was even harder to believe that with the help of a foreign Vindicator—a Frenchman codenamed Fluxx—flesh, muscle, and bone had been knitted back together, making her hand as good as new.

      Cyndi put her hands together to measure her new fingers’ lengths: they matched up evenly with her other hand.

      “Are you listening?”

      Cyndi turned and found her roommate sitting next to her on her bed. Aisha’s expression was one of worry. “I’m sorry, I had more pressing things on my mind, what with losing part of my hand last night.”

      Aisha frowned. “I said that Ebb showed up in the school, this morning. He walked through the walls and came right into the cafeteria. He told the students there to let me know that nothing could stop him. The headmaster came in, and then… he left.” The girl sniffled. “Maybe I should just go with him, before he hurts someone else…”

      Cyndi looked back at her hand. She rotated her wrist, inspecting the range of movement. Suddenly, she pulled her arm back, only to swing it around to slap Aisha. “Huh,” she said, looking back at her hand, “still works.”

      “What do you-?” Cyndi cut off Aisha by bringing her hand back to slap her again.

      “Shut up,” Cyndi said. “Your father was right: Ebb is using you for your ability. It’s only a matter of time before he gets caught. He just put himself on the Vindicators’ radar. Do you really want to be with him when they come kicking in the door?”

      “N-no, but… Cyndi, those men he hired to grab me could have killed Matt and Jim! And Matt’s face… They practically cut it open! Plus, what Ebb did to you… Last night, when I used my powers on you, I felt your pain. It was so…” Aisha started to cry. “I don’t want anyone else to suffer.”

      “I do,” Cyndi said.

      Her roommate looked puzzled. “What are you talking about?”

      “I want someone to suffer, Aisha: Ebb. I want him to suffer. I want to make him suffer.

      “I’m going to make him wish he’d never laid eyes on me.”

      Cyndi turned then and smiled at Aisha. “I need to know about any weaknesses he has: is there anything he can’t disintegrate? Some kind of metal that resists his power or anything? What about energy? If we got a student who can shoot energy, or something, will that hurt him?”

      “I’m not sure,” she said nervously.

      “What’s his real name? I mean, maybe someone could get a hit on a credit card, or something… Hell, maybe we could find out where he’s staying and ambush him in his sleep!”

      Aisha hugged her knees into her chest and began rubbing her arms with her hands. “I don’t know,” she said.

      “Does he have any family? Loved ones we could go after?”

      “I know he has a sister, but I never met her. I think she lives with their mother. His parents are separated.”

      Cyndi let out a groan. “You’re not giving me a whole lot to work with here.”

      “I’m sorry. I don’t know a whole lot about him.”

      “How long did you two date?”

      “A couple of months,” Aisha confessed.

      “And you never found out his real name? Never met his parents? Never saw where he lived?”

      “When we were dating, he lived out of hotel rooms.”

      “Well, how did he pay for them?”

      Aisha started to cry. “I don’t know! I don’t know, okay?”

      Cyndi sighed and shook her head. “So, you don’t know anything personal about this guy except his name is Ebb and he’s a Neo-Sapien whose powers make him untouchable?”

      “I know some stuff, just… nothing that will help.”

      “Like what?”

      “I know that he loves Cap’n Crunch, and his favorite show is Saturday Night Live—he never misses it. He doesn’t like mustard on anything. Green is his favorite color. He likes cats more than dogs because they’re independent. He’s afraid of spiders. He listens to-”

      “Wait, back up: he’s afraid of spiders?”

      Aisha nodded. “Big time. This one time, we were just hanging out, and a spider dropped down, and he practically had a heart attack. I had to kill it and get rid of it before he’d calm down.”

      Cyndi cogitated this morsel of news. “That… might be useable.”

      Aisha looked perplexed. “Really?”

      “Well, think about it: he can move through solid objects, right? But he can also touch things. Further, he was touching you when he disintegrated my hand. How was he able to do that without making you lose a hand at the wrist, Aisha?

      “It’s gotta take him some serious focus to use his powers—he probably has to concentrate to go through walls, otherwise he’d start falling through the floor every time he went to bed. Well, if we can unnerve him with a spider, or something… maybe he wouldn’t be able to focus, and use his powers to go intangible.

      “Aisha, I don’t think your ex is nearly as untouchable as he thinks he is.”




      “I just don’t see a point in it.”

      “A teacher died, John. The point is honoring her service to the school.”

      “Yeah, I get that, but she wasn’t my teacher. I don’t see why I should go.”

      “To pay your respects,” Dirk said. “I mean, you didn’t know her, sure, but what about Kim?”

      “I’m pretty sure Kim wasn’t in any of her classes.”

      “Maybe not this year, but what about last year?”

      John shrugged. “I dunno. I mean, she doesn’t seem that shaken up by any of this. I don’t think she even knew this lady.”

      Electing to not press the issue any further, Dirk sighed. “So, what was the deal with that guy in the cafeteria?” he asked. “Who’s Aisha?”

      “Beats the hell out of me,” John said.

      “Language!” hissed Dirk.

      John sighed. “Sorry. I keep forgetting. I’m not used to watching my mouth.”

      “Didn’t you ever abstain from obscenities at home or at school?”

      “At school, I guess, but at home?” The shaggy-haired boy shrugged.

      “You cursed in front of your parents?” asked a scandalized Dirk.

      “Rita didn’t mind. She said it was just words. I mean, okay, when I swear, why are you offended?”

      “They’re bad words!” Dirk exclaimed.

      “Says who?” John asked. “Who decided that the F-word was bad? Is there anything in the Bible that says not to say it? I mean, sure, I know one of the Ten Commandments is not taking God’s name in vain, right? But what about every other swear word? Aren’t those all modern inventions? The Bible can’t cover that.”

      “No, they… Well, it—the Bible, I mean…” Dirk took a deep breath. “Romans 12:2 says, ‘And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.’”

      “But that doesn’t say anything about dropping F-bombs.”

      “It doesn’t have to. It means that we… Well, we… What I mean is we don’t conform to the world. We don’t talk like they do.”

      “So who made the distinction between the F-word being worldly, but decided ‘soufflé’ was perfectly fine?”

      “It’s just a bad word, okay?”

      “Says who?”

      “Says The Bible!”

      “No, it doesn’t.”

      “It does! It just… you have to understand it. I mean…” Dirk sighed. “Do you want to come to church with me?”

      John stifled a laugh. “Thanks for the invite, Dirk, but church is… It’s not for me.”

      “It’s for everyone,” argued Dirk.

      “Sorry, man. I’m just not the church-going type.”

      Dirk frowned at him. “It’s just… Well, I’m not the type for movies with violence and swearing and…” He dropped his voice to a whisper. “Sex.” Dirk looked around the hall, to ensure no one had heard him. “Still,” he said, returning to his normal volume, “I watched that… terrible movie with the bad acting that made no sense…”

      “No one appreciates the genius that is Tommy Wiseau!”

      “Movies are a big part of who you are, aren’t they?”

      “Yeah,” John admitted as they reached their door.

      “Well, church is a big part of who I am. I just figured that since you’re always encouraging me to ‘expand my horizons’ and experience your world…?”

      John sighed. “That I’d reciprocate things and go to church with you?”

      “But, if you’re not the church-going type…” Dirk said as he gave the door knob a twist.

      Closing his eyes, John forced the words out: “I’ll go.”

      Dirk gasped.

      “Really?” John asked. “You’re that shocked that your guilt trip worked so-”

      “John, your stuff’s gone!”

      John stepped into their room to find his television, laser disc player, and shelf of movies missing from their dormitory.

      “Do you think the headmaster confiscated it for being inappropriate?” Dirk asked.

      “No,” growled John. “I think it was stolen.”

      “Huh? Who would steal your stuff?”

      “My girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend…”



      “Let go!” howled Javier. “Let go! Let go! Let go!”

      Slowly, Gene took hold of his senses, and realized he was holding one of his upperclassmen by the fingers of his right hand. Given how it felt, it seemed as though he had broken all of them.

      “I apologize for hurting you,” Gene said, letting go of Javier’s hand. “You startled me.”

      “He was just trying to hand you back your wallet,” growled the Samoan boy. He was Apelahama Kelekolio, a junior who went by “Ham”. Though obese, his power—as Gene understood it—boosted his speed, in addition to his strength and endurance. Ham was reluctant to use his powers, as they made him more aggressive.

      Gene looked around the cafeteria: Javier Alvarez could summon an angelic protector; Annette Franklin could emit smoke; Isabella Thompson exhaled chlorine gas; Hikari Himura could manipulate light; Luke Meinstein transformed into living lightning; Neige Altair transformed into ice when she was hit by energy; Eric Vaughn could simulate teleportation by warping topography to join two areas… He still didn’t know what Derryl Isaacson’s powers were…

      Looking back at Ham, Gene decided that it was not prudent to engage him. Even if he disabled him before he could evoke his combat-augmenting abilities, he would still have to contend with the speed Luke possessed. Eric, meanwhile, could bring in reinforcements with unknown capabilities.

      “What the hell is wrong with you?” Ham asked.

      “You perceive that I am defective, due to my reflexes?”

      “No, I think something is wrong with you because you almost broke a dude’s hand because he tried to help you. That’s not right, bro.”

      “I apologized for causing him harm,” Gene said. “Social etiquette dictates that you accept my apology. As I understand it, it is rude of you to continue to harass me in this fashion. Am I mistaken?”

      “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa!” Gene looked up to see Matt Baker running up to them. Matt’s ability allowed him to generate and discharge streams of ionized gas. He was one of the more dangerous students in this school, and would be one of the first Gene would have to kill, should the need arise. “Everything okay here?”

      “Your amigo is loco,” Javier insisted, cradling his hand. “I think he broke my hand.”

      “Most assuredly,” Gene said. “I would expect your distal, middle, and proximal phalanges to be broken. I may also have fractured your trapezium-”

      “You’re not helping,” Matt grumbled to his classmate. Turning back to Ham and Javier, he shook his head. “Look, you should definitely go get that looked at. I’ll go talk to Headmaster Himura about what happened. He can deal with Gene. Deal?”

      “Just keep psychoboy away from me,” Javier hissed as he headed off for the infirmary.

      Matt eyed Gene worriedly. “Are you okay?”

      “I suffered no damage,” Gene explained.

      “I… didn’t mean…” Matt sighed as his shoulders sagged in defeat. “Why did you do that?”

      “I anticipated he was about to attack me. I responded accordingly.”

      “You thought he was going to attack you? Why? Is that part of your power, or something?”

      Gene shook his head. “I possess no powers.”

      Matt was taken aback by this revelation. “You… you’re not a Neo-Sapien?”

      Gene shook his head, leaving Matt even more baffled.

      “Then… what are you doing here?”

      “Jason Lamperouge thought that this would be the best place for me, following the termination of Project Ascension.”

      “Jason Lamper… The guy who runs Eldritch Technologies? Richest man in the world? That guy?”

      Gene nodded.

      “He made you in a lab? Like, you’re some sort of robot?”

      “No,” Gene said flatly. “I was created by Doctor Roland Flint, at the El Cazador military installation.”

      “For this… Project Ascension?”

      “Yes.”

      “And what is Project Ascension?” Matt warily asked.

      “Project Ascension was an attempt by the Department of SPB Affairs to fabricate genetically altered individuals who might be produced in order to protect humanity from the growing super-powered populace.”

      Matt was horrified. “And you’re the product of this… this thing?”

      “I am the ninth product of Project Ascension, initially designated Ascend:09.”

      “You mean to tell me that there are eight more of you out there?”

      Gene shook his head. “No. While the genetic alterations were deemed a success, the test subjects began to demonstrate undesirable psychological conditions. They were destroyed, and the project began anew with two new prototypes: Ascend:08 and Ascend:09. However, the project drew scrutiny by the Secretary of Defense, and the project was terminated.

      “Unsure what to do with me, they put me before Jason Lamperouge. He determined that I could acclimate to normal society by immersing me in an environment such as this one.”

      Matt sighed. “Okay,” he said, rubbing the back of his neck nervously, “he sent you here to basically work on your social skills, right?” He held up his hands in surrender. “I’m not going to try and hurt you, okay?” He moved his arm slowly, intending to grab Gene’s shoulder.

      Gene watched him at first, then suddenly whirled around, grabbed Matt, and pulled him into a chokehold. Matt immediately began to flounder about, lightly smacking at Gene’s arms.

      When Gene released him, Matt voraciously drank in the air. “I said I wasn’t going to try and hurt you!” he managed between breaths.

      “It could have been an attempt to get me to lower my guard,” Gene said.

      Matt eyed the other freshman strangely. “Okay, maybe we’ll work on your social etiquette after we tackle your trust issues.”



      “So?” Eric asked, looking at his roommate expectantly.

      “So, what?” asked Derryl.

      Eric sighed. “I told you that a crazy guy abducted me from our room—right in front of you—and took me to a dimension where time just stopped working because of something called the Armada… and you seem strangely calm about it.”

      Derryl shrugged. “Well, these things happen.”

      Eric stifled a scoffing laugh. “These things…? How do you…? You know, the crazy old man told me that you would have understood all this—Oubliette-6 and all that. Do you?”

      Derryl nodded. “Yup.”

      “Well, would you care to explain it to me?”

      Derryl shook his head. “Nope.”

      Eric let out a groan as he leaned back in his chair. His head rolled back and his hands flew up to smother his face. “Are you aware of how frustrating you are?”

      Derryl nodded. “Yup.”

      “Why are you doing this to me?”

      “I’m not doing anything to you,” Derryl said.

      “You’re not… You just admitted that all of this makes perfect sense to you, but you won’t explain it to me?”

      Derryl leaned forward and fixed Eric with a focused look. “However insane you think this is? If I explain it to you? It’ll just make it worse.”

      Eric laughed. “How? How could it possibly get any worse?”

      Derryl held up his hands and slowly rotated his wrists, showing his roommate the digits inscribed on his digits. “Anything about this look sane to you? What about the nightmares. We’ve been roommates for a week and I’ve woken you up screaming how many times? Honestly, man… I’m not trying to be a tease. The things I’ve seen? Eric, I’ve actually met myself. Can you wrap your mind around how insane that is? Most days, I am barely holding it together, and that’s not something I’d wish on anyone.”

      Eric was flabbergasted. “You met yourself? What, like… like in another dimension, there was another you?”

      Derryl shrugged. “Sort of,” he said. “It’s a lot more complicated than that…”

      “So, you’ve been to another dimension, too? That old man? He took you to one?”

      “Not exactly,” Derryl said. “I’d never seen that man before in my life. No, I met someone else. She was a girl—a couple of years older than us.”

      “And she—this girl—she took you to another dimension?”

      “Yes.”

      “What was it like there? Was it a wasteland like Oubliette-6?”

      “No,” Derryl said uneasily. “It was… it was pretty normal. Look, I’m sorry. I just… I don’t like talking about all this. Is it okay if we just…? Can we drop it?”

      Eric looked disappointed, but he understood. “Yeah, that’s fine. I’m sorry, man.”

      Derryl nodded and sprang to his feet. “I think I’m going to go bum around the band room for a bit. Talk to you later.”

      Eric nodded and watched as his roommate left the room. He couldn’t help but wonder what the dimension this mystery girl took Derryl to was like. Then, it hit him: two different people with the power to traverse time and space had taken two other people to two different dimensions. It stood to reason that there may be other people capable of crossing over into other universes, and other people who might have had a similar experience.

      With nothing to lose, Eric turned to his computer, and started looking for someone else who had had extra-dimensional adventures.



      “Our gracious and loving heavenly father, thank you so much for another day. Lord, I’m thankful for my friends—especially for my teammates. We humbly ask that you watch over us now: keep us safe in this exercise, and Lord, please use it to minister to our hearts, and mold us into the sort of heroes you want us to be.

      “We ask these things in your name,” Drew concluded, “amen.”

      “Amen,” Mary said.

      Dylan opened his eyes and looked to his left—to his roommate and leader, Drew Loder. Drew began every Wreck Room exercise by asking his team if they could pray together. The prayer seldom changed—he always asked for protection and guidance—but he asked for their permission each time, rather than risk offending anyone.

      No one ever objected, not even Teddy.

      Theodora “Teddy” Titus was the daughter of two faculty members. Her father was the head physician on campus, while her mother taught speech and theatre. She was also an atheist, but she never abstained from joining hands with her team, while Drew led them in prayer. Drew had asked her about it once: “It’s not out of reverence to the sky-bully,” Teddy had told him, “but out of respect for Drew and Mary.”

      When they were freshmen, Mary and Teddy had frequently been at odds with one another. Mary thought it was her duty to witness to her heathen roommate, and save her from the fires of damnation. It wasn’t until Drew intervened that things began to cool down between them. He had explained that, to people like Mary and him, there was a truck rolling downhill, speeding right towards Teddy—one that Teddy couldn’t see—and they were only trying to push her out of the path of, because they loved her, and didn’t want to see her hit.

      Teddy understood that Mary genuinely cared about her, and Mary understood that persistence wasn’t going to change Teddy’s mind. They loved each other despite that rift in beliefs, and Dylan envied them for that. He didn’t imagine Drew would accept him for what he was…

      Dylan looked to his left and watched as Drew let go of his hand. Mary let go of Teddy’s. Boyfriend and girlfriend hugged. They weren’t much for public displays of affection—they thought it inappropriate to kiss in front of others—but nothing could stop Drew from kissing Mary’s forehead.

      It was one more thing that Dylan envied Mary for.

      Growing up, he knew that he was different from other boys. When he was eight, he was the only boy on his block who wasn’t bewitched by Amber Crusoe. Throughout junior high, he found himself daydreaming in class, fantasizing about kissing Jeremy Pollack or Logan Strong. During his second year at the New Vindicators Academy, wet dreams were all too frequent, and typically stared his roommate, or Teddy’s dad.

      He was thankful for Mister Goodman, one of the nurses on staff. As an openly gay man, his advice was invaluable. Dylan idolized him for having the strength to come out to his loved ones, and he coveted the sort of relationship Goodman had with his husband.

      In a perfect world, Dylan would be able to come out to his loved ones. He would tell his parents that he was gay, and they’d tell him that it changed nothing. He would tell his friends. Drew would tell him that he felt the same, and they would live happily ever after.

      It wasn’t a perfect world, though. It was a world were Dylan was in love with a boy who was never going to love him back—a boy who openly condemned the very thing Dylan yearned for—and, for now, that would have to be good enough.

      A dull buzzer sounded, signaling that the exercise was about to begin. Dylan and the rest of his team, Aegis Squadron, looked to the back of the room. The doors to the control booth were opening, revealing the headmaster.



      “Salutations,” Headmaster Himura said with a smile, “and welcome to the first Wreck Room session of the year. For our new students, once a week, you’ll gather here to participate in challenges designed to test you, your powers, your skills, and your ability to function together as a team.

      “Each week, the goal will be different. The parameters of each exercise will be designed by the individual proctors, who will rotate week-by-week. One thing will remain the same, however.” He looked over his shoulder and a scoreboard appeared in the air behind him. “Your performances will be ranked. Each week, you will earn points. Over the course of the semester, those points will be added up, and one team will be crowned champions.”

      “All of the new students have been assigned a team. Unless you have a serious complaint about your teammates, these placements should be considered permanent. Once I call out your name, please step forward.

      “Cyndi Brightman, John Saxon, Aisha Stein, and Dirk Wolfram.” The four teenagers stepped forward. “Congratulations,” the headmaster said, “you four are now a team. It’ll be up to you to decide on a name, and nominate a leader.” As they stepped aside, Himura looked back to the other new students. “Heidi Lancaster, Sarah Manther, Ken Porter, and Regina Sway.” Once they had gathered together, he called the next four names: “Matt Baker, Derryl Isaacson, Gene Stephenson, and Eric Vaughn.” That left only four without a team: “Mickie Daniels, Jamal Freeman, Nicole Mucciante, and Chad Winter.”

      Eleven four-man training squads were scattered around the Wreck Room. “Now then, we’ll go ahead and jump right into the main event!” The chamber began to glow. Once everyone’s vision adjusted, they found themselves suddenly standing on a clock, adrift in the ocean. “The Wreck Room uses hard-light holograms to simulate any environment imaginable—no matter how unfeasible they may be.

      “For the purposes of this exercise, each team will take the place on one number…” Some of the teams made a mad dash for certain numbers; others dawdled, less enthusiastic about where they began. “When the whistle sounds, the room will change again. You’ll find yourselves in a labyrinth, with a random starting location decided by your placement on this clock. Throughout this maze, you’ll encounter numerous obstacles. You’ll also find keys hidden throughout. Each team will need four keys to open the door to the central chamber, where the finish line waits. Rankings will be based on the order you each cross the finish line.

      “Any questions?”

      When no one said a word, Himura signaled to the other faculty members in the control room. The chamber began to glow—transforming once more.

      Stone walls blocked the headmaster’s sight to his charges. “Good luck,” he said softly, before turning to make his way to the control room, to watch their progress…
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      • #4
        Tabula Rasa #3, Part II

        “Fill me up, baby.”

        Luke grinned and slipped an arm around Neige’s waist. He yanked her close and pressed his lips to hers. Hikari looked away. It pained him to watch his best-friend kiss the woman he loved.

        As they kissed, Luke transformed into living lightning. Neige absorbed the energy and used it to transform herself into living ice. “Mmm,” Luke said as he ended their embrace. “I love you.”

        Neige grinned at him. “I love you more.”

        “So, what the plan?” Hikari asked.

        “I’m going to go scout ahead,” Luke said. “I’ll find the keys and get across the finish line.”

        “Uh, don’t we all have to cross?” asked Sabrina. “I mean, it’s a team exercise, right?”

        Hikari was nodded in agreement with her. “I think she’s right. Luke, we’re all going to need to cross.”

        “Well, try to keep up then.” And with that, Luke was gone in a flash.



        Josie gathered her long, flame-red hair and pulled it into a ponytail. “Ready, Sheroes?” she asked.

        Her team—Lucias Ramos, Kim Forbes, and Suzette Shaw—nodded apathetically. They knew that their talents were hardly as valuable as hers were. Suzette’s ability to scale walls was outclassed by Josie’s ability to fly, and Kim’s powers were even more limited. Lucias’ pyrokinesis was only useful in a fight: last year, controlling fire hadn’t helped her find an abducted child at an amusement park, rescue people flung into icy waters after a bridge collapse, or evacuate a village before waves of lava rolled over it.

        Since last year, Josie had given some thought to how her team functioned, and she realized that it was up to her to carry her team. She hated to think that way—she despised hubris—but it was the truth: if The Sheroes were going to place in the top three slots, it was going to be because she fought for it.

        “Let’s go!” Leaning forward, Josie propelled herself through the air. Her uniform was specially designed with an iron frame she could support herself with. Whereas her twin brother had inherited their mother’s ability to manipulate the weather, she had their father’s command over magnetic forces. By manipulating the iron exoskeleton she wore, she was able to fly under her own power.

        The labyrinth was enclosed—Sabrina’s claustrophobia would no doubt hinder Vanguard’s progress—impeding her ability to scout the map. Rather than waste time in cursing the ceiling’s presence, Josie elected to play with the hand she was dealt and flew ahead. Speed was a factor in their rankings. She needed to move fast, find four keys, and lead her team to the center. If she could find enough metal, she could cobble together some sort of armored ball the others could ride in, protecting them as she shot her team towards the finish line.

        Snaking her way through the twisting tunnels, she breathed a sigh of relief when she spotted a door ahead. Wasting no time, she bid it open and exploded into the room, only to find herself greeted by a tyrannosaurus rex.

        The beast charged at her, but Josie failed to waver. Instead, she landed and reached back with her power. The door was gently removed from its hinges and began to gingerly float into the air towards her. “Not today,” Josie muttered as the dinosaur prepared to devour her. The door flew forward and slammed into the creature’s face. It looked stunned, but it was still on its feet. “Not this year.” Again and again Josie bid the door to bludgeon the dinosaur until it collapsed to the floor of the room.

        The ground shook from the beast’s fall just as the rest of her team came into the room. “All right,” she said, raising the door into the air and bidding it to take a new shape. The metal bent and twisted around and soon she’d forged a makeshift sleigh. “All aboard.”



        The bell sounded the start of the exam and Isabella sighed. “Well,” she said, leaning against the far wall, “who’s ready to go come in last?”

        Paul and Oliver opened the door and stepped into the hallway. At the other end, they could hear the roar of something monstrous. “Five bucks says it’s a dragon,” Paul said.

        Oliver sighed. “How the hell are we supposed to get past a dragon?”

        “We’re not,” grumbled Annette.

        “So, the usual plan, then?” asked Paul.

        The rest of Team Whatever looked to their leader. Isabella sighed. “The usual plan,” she agreed.

        The four seniors made their way down the hall, and soon, the crimson, scale-covered tail of a dragon slashed through their field of vision. “Pay up,” Paul said, nudging Oliver in the ribs.

        “Yeah,” Oliver said, looking down at the skintight bodysuit his lanky form had been stuffed into, “because there’s a place to carry my wallet on this.”

        Isabella held up a hand for them to be quiet. She tried to scan the room from the threshold. “I’ve got our exit,” she said. “Everyone ready?”

        Paul made the sign of the cross.

        “Nobody die!” Isabella screamed as she led the charge out of the hallway, past the dragon, and for the next hallway.

        “It’s gonna breathe!” Oliver screamed. “It’s gonna breathe! It’s gonna breathe!”

        “Shut up and run!” Isabella snapped. The foursome hustled through the threshold and found themselves in another hallway—but they were far from out of danger. She looked back over her shoulder in time to see a ball of fire rolling towards them. “Everyone dive!”

        None of the members of Team Whatever were in possession of an ability that would protect them from harm: Isabella exhaled chlorine gas, Oliver’s body was self-sustaining, Annette could detect another’s moods, and Paul’s power was asepsis—an immunity to all biological contaminants. Not only did none of them possess the offensive abilities that would let them defeat a dragon, they lacked the defensive abilities that would save them from its fiery breath.



        Dirk’s head stretched around the corner. He anticipated danger to fling itself at them around every turn, and demanded they proceed with the utmost caution. Surrendering to his roommate’s whims, John reined in his air of flippancy. Aisha didn’t have to humor him: she was already on edge. Cyndi, however, could not force herself to care: without waiting for Dirk’s signal, she turned the corner and made her way into the next room.

        “Cyndi!” Dirk exclaimed, once he spotted her passing him. “You’re supposed to wait for the signal!”

        Cyndi threw out her arms, as if to present him with the empty, ten-by-ten chamber. “It’s an empty room, Dirk.”

        “Yeah, but you didn’t know that going in,” he argued as John and Aisha caught up. “The plan is I scout out what’s ahead, and only if it’s clear do we proceed.”

        Cyndi rolled her eyes. “Whatever.”

        “Hey,” John said, pointing down at the floor, “the room’s not so empty after-all.” He crouched down and attempted to pull the floor drain up with his fingers, only to struggle to find a grip. “A little help here?” he asked.

        Dirk stepped forward, but Aisha caught his arm. “Wait, the whole point of us being on a team is to use teamwork, right? Cyndi can see in the dark! Couldn’t she look down that hole and see if there’s a key?”

        The two boys looked to Cyndi expectantly.

        “Couldn’t you just put your hand in there and feel for it?” Cyndi asked.

        “Yeah,” Dirk boisterously said, “but this way, you get to participate!”

        Cyndi sighed and lied down on the floor. Cupping her hands around one eye, she peered into the darkness. “Yup,” she said apathetically, “there’s a key down there. Any other obvious shit you want me to point out?”

        “Language!” hissed Dirk.

        “Dirk,” John said, knowing how pointless it was to argue with their teammate, “do the thing.”

        As Cyndi rose back up, Dirk made his hand paper-thin. He reached into the drain and retrieved the key. “Ta-da!” he exclaimed, presenting it to everyone.

        “Hooray,” Cyndi groaned, “you managed to put your hand in a floor drain.” Rolling her eyes, she turned and headed for the only other exit. “Your parents must be so proud.”

        Oblivious to Cyndi’s sarcasm, Dirk flashed her his most winning smile. “They are,” he said cheerily.

        Cyndi rolled her eyes. “Could I have been paired up with anyone more pathetic?”



        “So, let me get this straight,” said Mickie, eyeing the boy in the wheelchair. “Your power is that you emit a horrible stench when you get angry?”

        Jamal nodded.

        Mickie turned to her roommate. “Your skin changes colors based on your mood?”

        Nicole’s entire body turned light-red.

        “And you…” she said, rounding on Chad.

        “I teleport,” the blonde boy offered, “and I’m lucky.”

        Jamal shook his head. “Can’t be that lucky,” he said. “You got stuck with us.”

        Mickie sighed. “I guess it’s up to me to carry this team then.”

        “And what is it that you do?” asked Jamal.

        With a thought, Mickie’s flesh transformed to steel. “I kick ass,” Mickie said before charging through the door, and down the hall.



        Sarah banked to avoid colliding with the wall, only to slam into the floor. Part of her powers rendered her invulnerable so long as she was moving, so the impact didn’t do much more than leave her confused as to how she’d suddenly gotten turned around. She shook it off fast: she knew the limitations on her powers and knew that she needed to keep moving if she wanted to avoid harm.

        It was too bad her teammates didn’t have the same luxury: “Snap out of it, Regina!” the Tennessee native screamed as she took off again.

        She wasn’t sure what had happened: one minute, they were grabbing their second key—the next, a group of four boys suddenly appeared. She knew Abe Chobanian from her Geography class; Greg Foster and Billy Wojciechovsky were in her Film class. While she didn’t know what Billy’s powers were, she knew that Abe was a teleporter and Greg could control minds: it was likely that he was the reason Regina had suddenly turned on their teammate.

        Regina had transformed into a being darker than night. She had explained it to them as they hurried into the labyrinth: from her father, she had the power to transform into a living black hole; from her mother, she had the power to increase the gravity around a subject, forcing them to the ground. Now, she used her power to keep Heidi pinned while she pummeled her with super-dense fists.

        Ken stood back, waving his hands and arms through the air. Writing him off as useless, Sarah turned and moved to charge Regina once more. Once more, she suddenly went off course and slammed into the ceiling. She started to fall, only to pull herself out of it. The moment she’d righted herself and moved to charge Regina again, she slammed into the ceiling.

        Below her, Ken shouted something—it sounded like gibberish. Sarah didn’t see what happened, but it caused Greg to cry out in pain. “Son of a bitch” one of her opponents roared. “The Asian kid’s a mage!”

        Whatever had just happened, it seemed to cause Regina to yield. “Good job, Ken!” Sarah cried as she flew by, charging for the four boys.

        “Dammit, Abe! Just grab the unconscious girl and move!”

        “I’ve got the flying girl!” Billy exclaimed. He moved to meet her charge, holding his own wrist. His arm detached at the shoulder. In one swift motion, he threw his own arm at her, evoking a scream from the freshman.

        Sarah tried to swat the arm off of her and slammed into the ground. Frantically she brushed her hands down her arms and chest, trying to shake the uncomfortable feeling she’d received from being hit by a limb. The instant she got hold of herself, she realized that their attackers were gone. “They left?” she asked. “They just left?”

        “Yes,” Ken said apathetically, “and they took Heidi with them.”

        She looked back to where Heidi had been lying—incapacitated by Regina’s onslaught. “Why?” she asked.

        “I’m guessing to ensure we can’t complete the exercise. If the whole team has to cross the finish line, we’re short one member, and we don’t know where she is.”

        Regina looked confused. “What happened?” she asked. “I remember them showing up and then…”

        “Greg’s a mind controller,” Ken said. “He took you over—made you beat Heidi half to death. Then Abe grabbed Heidi and teleported them all somewhere else.”

        Confusion melted away, leaving only a horrified expression on Regina’s face. “I’m so sorry.”

        “You couldn’t help it,” Ken said. He looked around the chamber. “Okay, first order of business is finding Heidi. Given her state, she’s not going to be up and about, looking for us. We need to track her down so I can heal her, then we can-”

        “Wait, you have healing powers?” Sarah asked incredulously.

        Ken fixed her with a level gaze. “I just said I could heal her,” he said dryly. “Did you think I was lying?”

        “N-no… I just…”

        “Look, I doubt this is a trap they’re setting for us,” Ken said. “I’m betting they’re just trying to sabotage the other teams. Still, I’d like to be prepared if they come at us again. Sarah, it’s useless to charge them like that unless we remove Abe from the equation: he’ll just keep changing your course. We need to focus on taking him out first. I’ll handle him. Once he’s out, we need to stop Greg. Fortunately, it looks like he’s only able to control one person at a time, so we…” He trailed off at the look on his teammates’ faces. “What?”

        “You’re really good at this, huh?” Sarah asked.

        “At what?”

        “Strategy,” Regina said “I think you should be our team leader.”

        “Seconded!” Sarah excitedly said. “Ooo, now all we need is a team name!”

        “Maybe we should focus on getting our missing teammate back first,” Ken grumbled. “Besides, I’ve already got the perfect name: The Number Four.”

        “Because there’s four of us?” asked a perplexed Sarah.

        Ken smirked at her. It was the first time she had ever seen him come even close to smiling. “Sure. Because there’s four of us…”



        “There’s another team up ahead,” Derryl said. “They’re digging through something—I can hear metal on metal. It’s small, but… One of them just called another Helen.”

        “Helen Holden,” Gene said. “Her power lets her walk on air. She is overweight, and poses no threat to us. Her teammates, however, could be dangerous. I suggest taking Javier down before-”

        “Wait,” Eric said, “you know who’s on what teams and what their powers are?”

        Gene nodded. “I observed who she was with when this exercise began. I have been compiling data on each student and faculty member-”

        “You know what?” Matt asked. “It’s complicated. Just accept that, yes, he does.”

        Eric nodded. “Okay, so… if I can get up closer, I can just teleport us past them. I just need to be able to see the exit.”

        “We could take them in combat,” Gene said. “Their team consists of Ham Kelekolio, Javier Alvarez, Wendy Caldwell, and Helen Holden. Javier summons an angelic guardian, but he has no defensive powers of his own. If we take him down before he summons it-”

        “Why would he not already have it with him?” Derryl asked. “Why wait until he’s ambushed?”

        “It would be foolish to reveal your trump card so soon,” Gene said matter-of-factly. “Javier can be removed from combat easily enough. Likewise, Wendy lacks defensive powers: she can merely manipulate our emotions. We can disable their entire team, allowing all four of us to combat Ham.”

        “And what are his powers?” Derryl asked.

        “His powers allow him to augment his combative abilities.”

        Eric nodded. “Yeah, we’re skipping them.”

        “Sounds good,” Matt said.

        Derryl shrugged. “I’m game.”

        Gene shook his head. “We have two keys,” he explained. “I would conjecture that this exercise was designed to pit us against each other. Our paths converged here. What if we’re meant to battle them, take their keys, and use those to advance?”

        “If we were meant to get our keys from other teams,” said Derryl, “there wouldn’t be enough for everyone to pass.”

        “Exactly,” Gene said. “This examination could be meant to cull the weaker teams from the competition.”

        Eric sighed. “He has a point.”

        “So, how do you want to do this?” Derryl asked. “What’s our plan?”

        “We’ll take them by surprise,” Eric said. “I’ll drop us all into the room. Gene can… actually, I still don’t know what you can do.”

        “I am an excellent hand-to-hand combatant.”

        Eric looked to his other two teammates. “Okay, well… do you think you can hold Ham off long enough for us to…?” He sighed. “I don’t think I can hit a girl.”

        “I can,” Derryl said coldly.

        Matt shrugged. “I don’t like it, but I think I could.”

        “I’ll work on the other one,” Eric said. “Once your target is down, move to help Gene. Okay, New Guys… Ready for this?”

        They nodded, and Eric teleported them into the room.
        Armada Status

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        • #5
          Tabula Rasa #3, Part III

          Dirk was thankful his roommate was done. He was stretched to his limit: coiled around the arms and legs of the massive robot, he had held it in place while John—now towering over their teammates—tore the monstrosity apart. It was dead, and John had found the key hidden inside its chassis. “And that makes four,” he said as he began to shrink back to his normal size.

          Dirk relaxed his form and slowly began to retract his elongated limbs. “Go, Team Jolly Ranchers!” he exclaimed excitedly.

          “Yeah,” Cyndi said, “we are not calling ourselves the Jolly Ranchers.”

          “We took a vote,” John said, sucking on a blue raspberry Jolly Rancher.

          “I don’t care.” Cyndi rolled her eyes at them. “It’s a stupid name.”

          “Well, I didn’t hear you suggest anything better.”

          “She didn’t suggest anything,” Dirk said, chiming in.

          “That’s because I don’t care,” grumbled Cyndi.

          “If you don’t care, then why-”

          “Because it’s a stupid name!” she spat at Dirk.

          “Guys?” Aisha tepidly asked. “We’ve got four keys. Shouldn’t we try to make it to the finish line?”

          “You’ve got four keys, huh?” The Jolly Ranchers turned around to find another team entering the cavernous chamber. They were members of the sophomore class: Remington Eastman, Natasha Kohlhagen, Marlon Winter, and Miles Lancaster. While Dirk wasn’t too familiar with Natasha—the timid, bespectacled girl—he was familiar with the others…

          Marlon and Miles were the boys who had helped chase off the boys who had been harassing Suzette. They were good guys, and he liked them. He did not, however, like Remington.

          Remington Eastman was a pretty boy. He had wavy hair, piercing eyes, and high cheek bones. His lithe frame was always stuffed into designer clothes. He tended to scoff a lot, and Dirk had the impression that he looked down on everyone.

          Last year, he had dated Suzette. According to her, Remy was a model. He was a concert pianist. He was a poet. He was considerate and romantic, and had been the perfect boyfriend up until he offered to share her with some of their classmates in order to make friends.

          “We’ve only got two,” Remington said. “How’s about you go ahead and hand us a couple of yours?”

          “How’s about you go screw yourself?” Cyndi snapped.

          “Language!” hissed Dirk.

          “We’re not doing this,” Miles warned Remington. He looked back at the Jolly Ranchers. “Don’t worry about us. You guys keep doing what you’re doing. Go win the exercise.”

          “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Remington snapped.

          “Language!”

          “Congratulating them,” Miles answered.

          “Last time I checked, Miles,” growled Remington, “I was the leader of the Edge!”

          “‘The Edge’?” scoffed John.

          Marlon shook his head. “We were fourteen when we came up with that…”

          “Go kick their asses!” shouted Remington.

          “Language!”

          Cyndi rolled her eyes. “Can we just go?”

          “Yes,” Miles said as Remington shouted, “No!”

          Miles sighed. “Look, Remy, I get what this is really about: the stretchy kid’s been hanging around with Suzie-”

          Remington flashed Dirk a smug grin. “You mean he’s been enjoying my sloppy seconds.”

          Dirk was oblivious most of the time, but he knew an attempt to goad him when he heard one. “‘And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other.’”

          “What the hell was that!?!” roared a flabbergasted Remington.

          “Language!” Miles and Dirk said in unison.

          “I’m leaving!” Cyndi declared. As she turned, she grabbed her roommate’s wrist. “Come on, Aisha!”

          Aisha waved to the members of the Edge. “Bye,” she said cheerily.

          “Bye,” said Marlon, eyeing the girl’s rears as they departed. “God bless whoever designed our school’s uniforms.”

          “You’re not going anywhere!” Remington snapped. “Miles, stop them!”

          Miles held up his hands. “Dude, I told you: we’re not doing this.” Dirk was thankful for that: he’d seen Mile’s ability in action and knew that his shadow bind could stop them indefinitely.

          “Okay,” John said, “I think I see a solution here.” He suddenly swelled in size. “First, you’re going to stop talking about Suzette like that.” He grew a bit more. “Second, you’re going to accept that this is a fight you’re not going to win and back down.” He continued to swell in size. “Third, you’re going to take your team and find two more keys, and finish this exercise.” He was no longer looking down at Remington—he was towering over him. “Now, you can either do that, or I can wipe you off the bottom of my boots. Choice is yours, man.”

          When Remington said nothing, Miles put his arms around his teammate and turned him away. “That’ll be fine,” he called up. “Again: congratulations. It’s great to see some freshman who might give Aegis Squadron or Vanguard a run for their money!”

          John returned to his natural size and nodded to Miles before leaving to follow Cyndi and Aisha. “C’mon, Dirk.”

          Dirk smiled at the four members of the Edge. “Lord bless you,” he said before skipping off after his team. “I’ll be praying for you!” Catching up to the others, he fell in beside John. “I like Mile and Marlon. They seem nice.”

          “They’re okay,” John admitted. “Their teammate’s kind of a di-uh… dummy.”

          “Yeah,” Aisha said, “but he’s a cute dummy!”

          Cyndi rolled her eyes at her roommate’s perpetual cheeriness. “Yeah, and it’s been established that you have terrible taste in men.”

          “You could do so much better than someone like him,” Dirk said. “There’s a young man in my Sunday School class. I could introduce you if-”

          “Pass!” groaned Cyndi. “You can do better than a Bible-thumping, Jesus monkey.”

          “Language!” John chided. He flashed Dirk a look of uncertainty. “Language? I mean…”

          “Well, if she’s using it to talk about the person…” Dirk looked just as confused. “So long as she isn’t taking the Lord’s name in-”

          “Oh, Jesus Christ!” roared Cyndi.

          “Language!” hissed Dirk as John nodded. “Definitely language.”



          Suzette opened her eyes and was startled to find her head in someone’s lap. With a gasp, she shot up and scampered backwards across the floor. “Easy,” Mary said, “you’re safe.”

          Looking around the room, she realized that she was not alone: Sabrina Brady was here, along with two of the freshmen girls. “Where are we?” she asked. “What happened?”

          “My boyfriend’s kid brother happened,” Mary explained. “When we saw them, Drew was too friendly. I don’t think he expected Jim to jump us.”

          She remembered now: the Sheroes had been making their way through the maze when Josie’s brother ambushed them. The last thing Suzette remembered was her friend and teammate attacking her. It had to have been Greg: he must have been controlling Josie’s mind.

          “So, where are we?” Suzette asked.

          “Beats me,” Mary said. “There’re two doors, but both are locked, and there’s no key in sight. Our team found a room that sealed us in, forcing us to solve the puzzle before we could advance. I think this was one of those rooms, and Team Loder stumbled onto it first. They solved the puzzle, got the key, but didn’t open the door to leave: they just had Abe teleport them back into the hall.

          “Every so often, Abe pops in with someone else. I think they’re trying to prevent anyone else from winning before they do. The entire team has to cross the finish line. If every team is short one member, no one can complete the exercise.”

          “But that’s… that’s cheating!”

          “Exactly. That’s not the worst of it, though.” Mary rose up and motioned for Suzette to follow her over to where the freshmen girls were. Nicole was kneeling next to Heidi, whose face was beaten and bruised. “There was no reason for them to go this far.”

          Suzette grimaced. She concurred, but she also wasn’t shocked to see how things had escalated. Jim Loder had his family and the faculty fooled, but Suzette had gotten a glimpse at the sort of person he really was, and it terrified her. If anything, this was tame compared to what she dreaded he might do one day…

          “There’s only five of us,” she said, looking around the room. “They still have five to go. We need to scatter around the room.” She took the initiative to begin making her way to the other side of the room. “Everyone, pick a corner and stay vigilant. Abe will be back just as soon as they hit another team. As soon as he appears, grab him and don’t let go.”

          Sabrina was the first one to comply, followed by a hesitant Mary. Taking stock of the powers they had at their disposal, Suzette wasn’t so sure about their chances: Mary’s power gave her eagle eyes, while Sabrina’s let her blend in with her surroundings; Nicole’s power made her a human mood ring, and Suzette’s let her climb walls.

          As Suzette understood it, Heidi’s power was similar to her brothers: by touching her shadow, she could animate it and make it attack. While Miles’ power let him bind people with his shadow, Heidi’s was more offensive: her shadow tendrils were razor sharp and suited more for cutting an opponent than binding them. While her abilities were the most effective of all of theirs, it would be useless in trapping Abe with them—not unless their objective was to kill him.

          Moments passed before Abe appeared, holding Helen Holden. Mary was closest to him, and she wasted no time in charging for him. She dove at him, intending to tackle him to the ground, but something unexpected happened: she fell to the ground a few feet from him.

          Shoving Helen away, Abe took a step and vanished from sight, evoking a frustrated groan from Suzette.

          “I’m sorry,” Mary said as she picked herself up off the floor.

          “It’s not you,” Suzette said, “just… him.”

          “I don’t know what happened. I had him, and then it looked like he just kept getting further and further away, and I just…”

          “Abe manipulates spatial topography,” Helen said. “Odds are, he made the distance between you stretch until you lost momentum.”

          “Great,” Mary grumbled, “so there’s absolutely no way for us to get out of here.”

          “There’s still hope,” Nicole said. “Maybe one of the other teams will beat them.”

          “It’s not about winning,” Suzette said. “If it was, they would… they would be ambushing teams and taking their keys. They’d just get it over with. No, this is about proving that they’re better than us. It’s about winning and making sure no one else completes the exercise.”

          Sabrina was looking at the ceiling. “What about Mister Himura? I mean, he’s monitoring everything, right? Why doesn’t he just let us out?”

          “Because, whether we think they’re cheating or not,” Helen said, “those assholes are adding a wrinkle to the game. The whole point was for us to jump over the obstacles and make it to the end, right? Well, this is just one more obstacle.

          “The headmaster’s probably waiting to see if anyone can get over it.”



          A buzzer sounded and Team Whatever stopped in their tracks. “First team crossed the finish line,” Oliver said. “Who do you think it was? Aegis Squadron? Vanguard?”

          “We’ll find out when cross the finish line.” Isabella looked down at the two keys in their hand. One team was already done, and there was no telling how far behind they were. “Let’s just keep moving…”

          They continued down the hallway, turned a corner, and froze at the sight of a door. “What do we do?” Paul whispered.

          Isabella pointed towards the doorknob. “See that thing? You put your hand on it, turn it counter-clockwise, and then push: the door will open, and we get to continue not winning.”

          Opening the door slowly, Isabella peeked into the next room and sighed. “Ham’s team didn’t win,” she whispered. “Looks like someone dropped them.”

          Oliver pushed forward and peered through the miniscule gap in the door. “Javier and Wendy are down,” he said. “I don’t see Helen. Ham’s still up and about.”

          “There’s no way we could take Ham in a fight,” Paul said.

          “Who said anything about fighting the Iridescent Wombats?” Annette asked.

          “My good buddy Common Sense,” argued Paul. “If someone ambushed them, they probably took their keys. They may need all four and Ham knows we’re not in his league. If he thinks dropping us will put them back on the board…”

          “Ham’s not like that.”

          Paul shook his head at the redhead. “No, Ham’s not, but his other side?”

          “Ham’s not like the dragon. Or the giant robot.” Isabella was looking through the gap. “We could take Ham. We’ve been working hard these last few months-”

          “We still wouldn’t stand a chance against Ham!” Paul exclaimed. Too late, he realized he hadn’t minded his volume. His hands flew to his mouth as his eyes bulged. “Do… do you think he heard me?”

          “Who’s there?” shouted Ham from within the chamber.

          Oliver shrugged. “It’s possible, I guess.”

          Taking a deep breath, Isabella opened the door all of the way and slowly lead her team into the room. “What happened to your team, Ham?”

          “We were ambushed,” the Somali boy hissed. “First, a team of freshman jump us… then Drew’s little brother!”

          “Where’s Helen?” Paul asked. Isabella looked over Ham’s team and realized that he was missing a member.

          “Little Loder’s group has a teleporter. They took her.”

          “They’re keeping you from completing the exercise,” Isabella realized. “Little pricks.”

          Ham nodded.

          “Good luck finding her.”

          As Isabella pushed through the room, Oliver trotted up ahead and began walking backwards in front of her. “Aren’t we going to help them?” he asked.

          “They’re down a man,” Isabella said. “We’re not. They can’t complete the exercise; we can. It sucks, but this is how it is…”

          “And what do we do if Drew’s brother’s group comes to break us up?” Paul asked.

          Before she could answer, a second buzzer sounded. Two teams had now finished the exercise. “We kick some ass,” said Isabella matter-of-factly, pressing forward.



          A buzzer sounded and Jim swore. “That’s two teams who have crossed the finish line,” Greg said. “Six teams can’t finish… That leaves just two other teams out there…”

          “We might as well just cross the finish line,” said Captain Billy.

          Abe shook his head. “We haven’t found the finish line,” he said darkly.

          “We push forward,” Jim said. “We find the other teams, and we take them out.”

          “And if it’s Remy’s?” asked Captain Billy. “He’s a part of our crew!”

          “He wishes he was part of our crew,” grumbled Greg.

          “Look, Cap,” Abe said, “I know Remy’s your roommate and all, but…”

          “But he drags us down,” Greg said. “He tries too hard. He’s sorta prissy, too…”

          “He has his uses,” Jim said casually, “and he won’t stop trying to impress us—even if we squash his little group. Now, do you faces want to keep bickering, or do you want to go kick some ass?”

          Greg popped his knuckles as Abe started down the hallway. No one noticed the defeated look on Captain Billy’s face. It didn’t sit well with him that they were trying to assert their dominance. They’d collected their four keys quickly and very likely could have crossed the finish line first, had it not been for their stopping to capture a member from each team.

          Part of him wanted to go to the headmaster and ask to be moved to another team. Another part of him knew that doing that would be suicide. He knew how relentless the other members of Team Loder could be. If they felt he had betrayed them, there was no telling how hard they would rain down on him.

          If he wanted the next three years of his high school career to not be a living hell, he had no choice but to endure his teammates…

          Abe reappeared ahead of them, beaming. “Guess what I found?” he said.

          “Who?” Jim asked, knowing immediately what this meant.

          “The reject squadron.”

          “The girl who inhales chloroform?” asked Greg.

          “Chlorine,” Captain Billy said. “Her name is Isabella, and she exhales chlorine gas.”

          “Someone’s got a thing for goth bitches, huh?” The Canadian youth tried to ignore his friend’s chiding.

          “Sounds like we got our target,” Jim said. “Let’s do this.”

          Abe nodded. “Everyone ready?” The others started to take a step forward. The moment their foot touched the ground again, the terrain shifted around them. Abe used his powers to move the entire group from one room to the next. So long as he could visualize his destination, he could bridge it with their current location, allowing them to move instantly.

          Their sudden appearance would jar their opponents. They would be startled and that would provided Team Loder with the opening they needed. Jim, Greg, and Captain Billy’s jobs were to create confusion while Abe moved one member of the opposing team to the sealed room.

          “Now!” Isabella shouted to her team.

          Billy watched as Abe moved to place himself behind Isabella just as her entire team showed their opponents their backs. Not wasting any time, Isabella slammed her palm up and into Abe’s jaw. As he staggered back, Annette grabbed his wrist and twisted his arm behind his back. She put a hand on the back of his skull and slammed him down and into the floor.

          Paul and Oliver charged for Billy and his companions. “Take them, Greg!” Jim roared. Paul stopped in his tracks, but Oliver continued. He struck the Esper in the chest, knocking him onto his back. Paul hurriedly shook off the effects of Greg’s mind control and lunged at Jim. He moved faster than Billy could see. All he knew was Jim was soon face down on the floor—his left arm was stretched up and behind him.

          “What the hell just happened?” asked the Canadian.

          “You should be able to appreciate it,” Isabella said. “Your powers aren’t the most offensive either. The difference is: we decided to do something about it.

          “We learned aikido.

          “Given your powers, holds aren’t going to work on you. You’d just detach an arm and slip out. I’m not sure if you can regrow detached limbs, though. I considered testing it, but… like I said: your powers aren’t offensive.

          “We ran into Ham’s group. We know what you guys have been up to. You’re capturing one person from each team, right? Prevent them from crossing the finish line? Good strategy.” Isabella nodded to the others. As Paul and Oliver rose to their feet, Isabella bent down to help Annette lift up Abe. “We’ll take him as collateral. We’ll also be taking your keys.”

          “The hell you will,” Jim growled. Billy cringed, fearing the worst. Jim could be vindictive when he felt slighted. That, coupled with his sadistic tendencies, made him an enemy Billy hoped he never made. “You stupid sons of bitches aren’t walking out here, period.”

          “Greg’s out cold,” Oliver told him. “The girls can keep Abe subdued. It’d be two against four. You might have the edge in power when we’re outside, but in here? Without any atmosphere to manipulate? Face it: our training gives us the advantage. Think it through, man…”

          The air around them began to stir and Billy tensed. Jim was a man of many secrets; one of which was that he could conjure weather effects in doors. Still, he found it to be advantageous to not advertise the full extent of his powers. “Let them think we’re weaker than we are,” he told his team. That was why Abe played up that he had such a short range with his powers. That was why Greg let everyone believe he could only control one mind at a time.

          That why nobody knew that Billy was capable of regenerating the body parts he detached.

          The air around them began to stir and then… it ceased. Jim calmed himself—forced himself to stand down. Still, he didn’t have it in him to simply quit. He wouldn’t allow himself to be seen as weak and mewling. A savage cry tore itself from Jim Loder’s maw as he sprinted at Oliver. The skinny boy grabbed Jim’s wrist and flipped the sophomore over him. He slammed him down onto his back. Jim grabbed Oliver’s ankle and tried to bite through the Kevlar leg of his uniform.

          Paul dove to help his teammate subdue the frantic teen. Billy raised his hands in surrender as Team Whatever worked to incapacitate his leader. Once Jim was unconscious, Billy watched as they took their team’s keys, flashed him a warning look, and flashed a look of pity at Jim before departing with Abe.

          Billy knew what would happen if Jim woke up—he knew the other boy would demand to know why he didn’t join in the fight. Before he bothered with rousing Jim or Greg from their stupor, Billy detached his fist and hesitated before he tried to give himself a black eye.



          The exercise ended when The Edge crossed the finish line. The Jolly Ranchers had won first place, with the New Guys coming in just moments later. Team Whatever crossed behind them, followed by the Edge. Shortly thereafter, the simulation ended: the walls disappeared, and everyone found themselves in the cavernous chamber once more.

          “We’ll cut this short,” the headmaster said as he stepped into the room, “as I don’t foresee the other teams making it out of there. Instead, I’m going to rank everyone else having tied for fifth, with Team Loder coming in sixth.”

          “What!?!” roared Jim. “We had the same-”

          “They were prevented from finishing because of your team,” said the headmaster. “Your team could have crossed earlier, but you got greedy. In the field, would you forgo accomplishing your own mission to sabotage your allies’ chances?”

          The boy said nothing, but continued to fix the man with a look of burgeoning indignation. Watching him, Matt saw hints of the Jim Loder he’d met the night Ebb attacked. His makeup had flaked away and exposed the cruel, sneering face of a psychopath. Watching the sadist’s veneer fade away, Matt realized just how truly dangerous their classmate was: in these exercises, Jim didn’t see them as opponents to be surpassed, but enemies to be destroyed.

          “Well, good job,” Eric said to the rest of their team. “Second place is nothing to sneeze at. I think this calls for a celebration. Anyone up for Malibu? I know this little beach…”

          “Malibu?”

          Matt turned and saw Aisha’s team behind them. Her roommate was eyeing Eric strangely. “How are you planning on getting to Malibu?” she asked.

          “I teleport,” Eric said.

          “Oh, we are so in,” Cyndi said.

          “We can’t just invite ourselves along,” Dirk said. “Sorry, we just wanted to come over and congratulate you.”

          “Yeah,” said John, “freshmen teams coming in first and second? I’d bet the school’s amazed…”

          “If we bet,” said Dirk. “Gambling is a sin.”

          “We won’t hold you guys back,” John said. “We just wanted to say good job.”

          “Yeah,” said Cyndi, “good job, and thanks for taking us with you to Malibu.”

          “Cyndi-”

          “Aisha and Mike are pretty much dating! Why wouldn’t he take us?”

          Matt rolled his eyes. He was about to correct her on his name when Aisha beat him to it: “His name is Matt,” she exclaimed, “and we’re not dating!” She started to blush. “I mean, I’d like to… We… We just went out the one time!”

          Derryl was smirking. “Oh, we are definitely bringing her,” he said.

          “Hey, the more the merrier,” Eric said.

          “Do you mind if Dirk and I go grab our girlfriends, then?” John asked.

          Dirk looked scandalized. “We don’t have girlfriends!”

          “Kim and Suzette,” John said.

          “We’re not dating,” Dirk argued. “We’re too young to date!”

          “Fine,” Derryl said, “grab your friends who happen to be girls—see if some of their friends want to come as well. We can all get changed and meet outside in… thirty minutes?”

          John nodded before grabbing Dirk and running off to find their friends. Cyndi pulled Aisha away, and Eric and Derryl vanished instantly. “So,” Matt said, looking to Gene, “do you have swim trunks?”

          Gene shook his head. “Standard issue equipment for amphibious missions was a neoprene wetsuit, as the thermal insulation is provides is invaluable.”

          Matt simply stared at Gene. “I don’t know what I expected,” he said. “Well, I think I might go invite my roommate along—see if his team wants to come too…” He looked around the room, but failed to find him. Wondering if Ken had already gone to the locker room to get changed, he went to look for him there. There, he overheard some of the other boys talking about one of the freshmen being taken to the infirmary after the exercise had ended. Fearing the worst, Matt headed there, with Gene in tow…

          He was relieved to learn it was not Ken, but one of Ken’s teammates who had been incapacitated. “Team Loder jumped us,” Ken told him through gritted teeth. “Greg took over Regina’s mind—turned her on Heidi.

          “He made Regina beat the hell out of her…”

          Matt had a couple of classes with Heidi. He didn’t know her well, but that didn’t change that his heart sank at the news of what had happened. It also served to solidify his resolve: Jim Loder was a monster, and Matt dreaded what he would do next…

          Matt didn’t bring up Malibu—he thought it would be in bad taste to mention celebrating when his roommate’s team was waiting outside of the infirmary. He almost considered canceling on Eric and the others. He almost considered joining the students congregating outside Heidi’s room. Two of the sophomores were there: Marlon and Captain Billy waited with Ken’s team. Marlon, it turned out, was the roommate and best-friend of Heidi’s big brother, Miles, who was inside with her. Captain Billy… Matt couldn’t fathom what he was doing here. As a member of Team Loder, Matt imagined that the youth was posted as a sentry—an early detection system against any blame that might roll his team’s way.

          He almost considered canceling on the others and throwing in with Heidi’s well-wishers. Gene was still shadowing him, and he worried that something cold and robotic might spill from the youth’s mouth, turning this into a fight. Wanting to steer Gene from this situation, Matt offered his condolences and made Ken promise to find him if he needed anything.

          Matt changed into a pair of shorts and loaned Gene another pair. Together, they headed off to meet up with the rest of the New Guys, the Rolly Ranchers, and part of the Sheroes. He was thankful to see Cyndi hadn’t invited Jim. He didn’t know how much of him he could take.

          In the blink of an eye, everything around them changed. It was a new phenomenon for Matt. Eric had teleported him the other night—the night Ebb attacked them—and he’d utilized his ability a few times during the exercise. It wasn’t a new experience, but it wasn’t one he was yet used to either. It was unsettling to go from late afternoon on the East River to noon on a beach in Malibu.

          John and Kim took off running the moment they appeared. At the sight of them, Aisha grabbed Matt’s arm and tried to drag him into the water. He decided not to fight her on it, and tried to push everything—Jim’s burgeoning lunacy, Heidi’s injuries—and actually enjoy himself.

          Hours passed. Dirk elected to employ some of his Boy Scout training and constructed a campfire. Eric left for a few moments, returning with marshmallows, graham crackers, and chocolate. For the barest of moments, Matt allowed himself to pretend to be a normal fourteen-year-old boy and just enjoy time with his peers.

          They talked about which teachers they liked—or endured Cyndi’s rants about which teachers she was going to get fired. They laughed when Derryl provided spot-on impressions of the faculty. They cringed when Dirk began quoting scripture. They didn’t know what to say when John and Kim suggested they go back to the school for an impromptu Takashi Miike movie marathon.

          For a while, Matt had forgotten all about Jim Loder, and then… “So, how’s your hand?” Eric asked Cyndi. Almost instantly, Matt flashed back to the night Ebb had tried to abduct Aisha, and Jim Loder had claimed the lives of three men without flinching.

          “It’s like it never happened,” Cyndi said, turning it back and forth before her face as if examining it. “It’s incredible.”

          “I’m sorry,” Aisha said meekly. “It never would have happened, if I hadn’t…”

          “You didn’t do this!” snapped Cyndi. “Ebb did! And if he’s dumb enough to ever show himself on the east coast again, he won’t get the chance to regret it.”

          “Planning to kill him?” Matt asked. “Your boyfriend’s really rubbing off on you…”

          “What the hell are you talking about?” Cyndi snapped.

          “Language!”

          “I’m talking about Jim killing three homeless people.”

          Around the campfire, nothing could be heard but the crackling of the logs.

          “You guys took off,” Matt growled, “and Jim had one of them on the ground. He just… He started stomping on his face. He killed him. He… He killed him and then others—they tried to run. Jim didn’t let them get away. He used his powers. He called lightning down and he… He…”

          “Why is he still at the school?” John asked as Eric inquired, “Did you tell the headmaster?”

          Matt shook his head. “I didn’t tell anyone. I… What good would it do? His mom is a teacher at the school and his dad is one of the Vindicators. Who would believe me?”

          “I went out with Jim last year,” Kim said. “He was… pretty intense, but I never imagined he was…”

          “He’s nuts,” Matt said. “Do you know what happened to Heidi?”

          “Who?” asked Cyndi.

          “Heidi Lancaster,” Aisha said. “She’s in a couple of my classes.” She leaned forward and gave Matt a concerned look. “What happened to her?”

          “Jim’s team was taking out one member of each team—keeping anyone from finishing the exercise, right? When they got to Heidi’s team… One of Jim’s guys can control people’s minds.”

          “Greg,” interjected Kim.

          Matt nodded. “Well, he took over Regina’s mind. She… I dunno. Her powers are she transforms into… Her skin turns black and she gets strong and tough… They made her pummel Heidi. They beat her up pretty badly…

          “Jim and his buddies did that and they don’t even care. Jim’s nuts and… and he’s going to hurt someone or worse.”

          Eric cleared his throat. “Missus Jenkins died,” Eric announced. “Derryl and I started digging into it. There’s something strange going on. What if Jim was involved somehow?”

          “What do you mean?” John asked.

          “I mean…” A sigh escaped the California-native’s lips. “What do I mean, Derryl?”

          “We broke into Missus Jenkins’ apartment and were ambushed by a mysterious man who took Eric to another dimension where he advised him to drop the investigation for the good of mankind.”

          Cyndi rolled her eyes. “And you all think Jim’s nuts.”

          “So, what are we supposed to do?” Dirk said. “We’re just kids.”

          “So is Jim,” Derryl argued.

          “He’s very charismatic,” Kim said. “When I first met him, he was so sweet. It took me a while to see the monster in him… I imagine everyone else is about the same. He’s got his family wrapped around his finger. Everyone at the school thinks he’s so sweet…”

          “He is!” Cyndi said. “When we went out-”

          “He killed three people when your back was turned,” Matt argued.

          “He didn’t care about winning the exercise,” Derryl said. “He just wanted to make sure no one else could complete it.

          “It wasn’t enough to beat the other teams: he had to subjugate them.”

          “I'm pretty sure he stole my laser disc collection,” said John. He started to blush. “I know it's not as bad as, you know, murder, but still...”

          “We might be kids,” Eric said, looking at Dirk, “but I think it’s up to us to find out how far he’s gone. I mean, if he’s somehow involved in a teacher’s death? We need to get to the bottom of this and expose him for what he is.

          “It’s up to us to stop him.”

          Originally posted by Michuru81
          A family reunion...
          Last edited by Michuru81; 11-03-2015, 11:16 AM.
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