Originals and Outsiders: Assemble
The New Kids On The Block
Jimmy let out a soft sigh, glancing up from his cup of Earl Grey as the door opened. “Hey,” he said simply as Kyle walked over to his recliner, and sat down weariness evident in his posture. “Help yourself to some tea,” he said gesturing to the picture on the end table. “I just finished brewing a pot.”
“Thanks, maybe later.”
“So... how’s it looking?” he asked curious. “The new recruits. What do you think? Think they’ll past muster?”
Kyle glanced over at his companion. “Anna’s magical powers are raw. Jason has a lot to learn. Moses is smart, but still needs a lot of practice to get a hang of his suit, not to mention Yuki and Moses’ arrogance problems. And both Lacie and Nick really need some mental discipline.
I think they’ll pass but I’m actually more concerned about what you think of them. You’ve had a chance to meet with them all one by one. Give me your honest answer. Do you think they’ll be able to handle what we’re expecting of them?”
Jimmy frowned, considering the question. “Well... they are a bit of a motley crew. And they’re all young, really young. And I do have some serious concerns. But... yeah, I think they’ll do okay. I mean, you’re not born a hero. Circumstances are what makes a hero. We all face trials in our lives... its just a question of how we respond to them.” He took another sip of tea. “If we give them the training and tools they need to be able to handle themselves, I think our group of kids would step up.”
“Yeah. I think so too. I guess... I’m just worried about them cracking under the pressure... if we’re not setting our expectations too high.”
Jimmy nodded at that. His own situation brought up that point all too well. His adopted daughter Lacie, Kid Omega, had the potential to become the most powerful heroine in their entire world, just as her predecessor, Omega Girl, had been decades ago. And yet, that Lacie Frasier, and the young girl they were training, were two different people, with two different lives. The young girl he was raising and training as a heroine was still very unsure of herself, and what her role was to be. Was knowing what she could become coloring his vision of what his young charge should become? Was he pushing her too hard too fast?
“You know, Kyle,” he said ruefully, “it sometimes strikes me, at moments of calm reflection like this, just how insane our lives truly are. I’m a man, half of a pair of twins, created by magic, talking with my brother from an alternate reality, about the pros and cons of how best to raise and train, among others, our MOTHER, or at least, a younger alternate dimension version of our mom, into a team of super powered heroes, all over a cup of tea.” He drank again, sighing. “And this is probably the most normal thing I’ve done all day.”
Kyle laughed in response “Yeah well you and me both. Kinda makes you miss the days where life was ‘normal’ huh? Mom and Gene were still fighting crime. We were more concerned about getting into medical school or something like that rather then raising the next generation of superheroes.”
Jimmy nodded, poured himself another cup. “Anyway... I was thinking of heading out for a few days next week. Katie and Sioban said they’d take over training for power control and physical training, respectively, while I was gone.”
Kyle nodded, wondering about the sudden decision to take off, until he recalled the date. “Oh. OH! It’s that time again, huh?” he asked with sympathy. “Are you going to take Lacie with you?”
He shook his head. “Not this time. She never knew Ryan, and she went with me mostly for my benefit than anything else. And with the rest of the group finally here, I think she’ll be better off staying here and getting acquainted with her new team.” He shrugged. “Besides, with a little luck, I might just be graced with She Who Reigns From Above this time... assuming she can be bothered to visit her own son’s grave site on the anniversary of his death.”
Kyle winced slightly. Despite his usual jovial and carefree nature, he apparently still held onto a lot of deep seeded resentment towards his wife, Devon, who had distanced herself from him since the boy’s death ten years ago. For himself, he didn’t think the Norn Goddess consciously realized how much she was hurting her husband. From the few times they’d talked, he knew that she blamed herself, that in her own words, ‘she should have foreseen it happening’. To deal with her grief, and assuage her guilt, she’d fully embraced her role as a Goddess, spending more and more time in Yggdrasil, and less and less in the ‘real world’.
I think he said that last time they’d talked face to face was six months ago, Kyle thought mournfully. Damned shame... I’d never met a couple more in love...
“Hey, Jimmy,” he offered, “I could probably skip a couple of days as well, if you want some company.”
“Aw, thanks, bro,” Jimmy replied with a sad smile, “but it’s cool. I’ll be fine, trust me. I wouldn’t be much company anyway.” He sighed, getting up from his seat. “Really... I think I’d just rather be alone with my kid, yanno?”
“Yeah, I know,” Kyle replied with a soft nod. “But the offer still stands.” Jimmy nodded as well, flashing his brother a grin before leaving the room.
“Okay. Are you both ready?” Lauren Albinn asked, glancing at her two charges.
“Hai,” Taya Yukino replied with a brief nod, assuming a fighting stance.
“Um... would you accept it if I said ‘no’?” Jason D’Angelo asked, only to wince at Lauren’s glare, showing she was not amused. He swallowed softly, glancing around wide eyed at the various turrets set up in front of them. He was dressed in a protective padded suit and helmet, though the padding was light enough to allow freedom of movement. Of course, this was merely practice, more a case of gauging his talent and abilities than actually pushing them. The projectiles were completely non-lethal... or so he’d been told. Still, he was under no illusion that it would likely hurt if he got tagged.
“Hmph,” the ninja girl grunted, shaking her head in obvious disgust. For her, this exercise was a wasted of time, and a waste of her talents. She was a full fledged shinobi, trained in the martial arts since she was barely old enough to walk. Powers or not, the very idea that this... this... orokamono could match her abilities was laughable at best. The stupid fool is clearly scared as it is, even with the padding, she thought to herself. The only protection I require is my gi hiding my body from prying eyes.
“All right, Yukino, you know what to do,” Lauren said after a moment, walking back behind the turrets. “We’ll begin in thirty seconds. The barrage will last for exactly three minutes. All you have to do is dodge the projectiles. Feel free to do so however you wish, but try and keep the gymnastics to a minimum, okay? And remember, this isn’t your test, you are merely assisting Jason with his. Got it?”
“Very well, Miss Albinn,” the young Asian girl replied, somehow managing not to groan out loud. It was bad enough being pulled away from her own training, forced to work with this... novice. Now she was being told to tone it down as well, not to show the true extent of her abilities? Hmph. They might as well just place a cardboard cut out of me on a string and let a fan blow it around.
As the clock finally ticked down, however, she assumed a defensive stance, planning to take the test seriously. As the gun turrets whirred to life, she dropped to a partial crouch, dancing lightly on the pads of her toes. The guns fired a moment later, aiming for her chest. She moved, swerving slightly to the side, a mere flexing of muscles, barely resisting the urge to yawn as the small rubber pellets passed harmlessly by, impacting the wall behind her. The turrets repositioned slightly, locking into her new position, as two more guns suddenly sprang to life, firing in concert with the previous three. Yuki grinned slightly at that, as she ducked, then rolled, considering that perhaps this time might not be so trivial after all.
Hmm. There are a total of ten guns there. If they come online one after another, by the end I may actually have a put a little effort into dodging them. I doubt it will be enough to break a sweat, but at least I might have an excuse to practice a few actual moves.
For her part, Jason merely watched in silent appreciation, watching the lithe slender girl dancing around the field. The projectiles being fired at her were small hard rubber bullets, similar to paint gun bullets, but without the colored fluid inside. And they were traveling hard enough and fast enough to leave marks on the wall, yet the ninja was moving so effortlessly it made it seem as if she knew where the shots were coming from before they were even fired!
Damn! I wonder if that’s true, he mused silently, eyes tracking the slender girl’s movements. Like a psychic sixth sense of something. Now that would be a cool power. ‘Oh! My ninja senses are tingling’. Heh. Why couldn’t I have something cool like that? He winced, the clock hitting the two minute mark as the last of the turrets finally activated, firing a now non-stop stream of bullets at the plucky ninja girl. Oh... shit. That looks... intense. And they expect me to do THAT in a few minutes after just watching her do it?
Lauren watched silently, studying both youngsters, but focusing her attention mostly on the boy. He appeared nervous, and looked a little green around the gills. Damn. This might be more than he’s ready for, she thought to herself, but Father insisted that we test him this way. He wanted an acid test, a sure fire way to show exactly what the boy was capable of. But, he’s too new to all this, too new to his powers. Even if he IS capable of mimicking Yuki’s abilities, he won’t be able to show them off if he’s so scared he passes out cold on the mat.
Yuki risked a quick glance at the clock and her grin widened. Heh Ten seconds left. Just enough time to finish with a flourish. Swerving suddenly to the left, dodging the latest barrage, she planted both feet firmly, and kicked back, somersaulting backwards as the guns swerved, trying to lock onto her. Counting in her head, she stopped one leap away from the wall and jumped straight up, twisting in midair to come back down into a crouch... landing in the exact position and spot where she’d started the exercise just as the timer expired.
“WHOAAA!” Jason yelled, causing her to jerk in surprise, so focused that she had actually forgotten he was there. “That was freaking awesome! Damn! I mean, all of it, every part, was amazing. You were like, zip, zip, swerve, swerve, swoosh swoosh! And that was amazing in and of itself! But that ending.... with the back flips and the spinning corkscrew thingy at the end, and all that... WOW! You are a true ninja!”
“Yes, I am,” Yukino said simply, walking calmly out of the target area. “Now we will see if you can match my level of skill. It is your turn, after all.”
“Uh... my turn?” Jason said, frowning. “Um... wait. Wait! I don’t think I’m ready yet! Can you maybe do that again?”
“Jason, stop stalling,” Lauren called out. “Get on your mark. The countdown has already started. Just relax and let your powers work on their own. You watched Yukino’s every move. You know what to do.”
“Yeah,” he mumbled, reluctantly taking his spot. “But knowing and doing are not necessarily the same thing...”
The clock hit zero, and the first gun whirred to life, locking in on Jason’s position. “Ohhhh... shit!” he yelled, eyes wide as the gun fired. Moving instinctively, he swerved to the side... perfectly mimicking the dodge Yuki had made earlier. “Huh... I... I did it!” he said in disbelief as the gun swerved, repositioning itself. “Hey! Maybe there’s something to this muscle memory stuff after allll-UUUUGGHNNN!” he groaned, sinking to his knees as the second barrage struck him... nailing him directly in the crotch.
“System pause!” Lauren shouted, causing the guns to freeze, rushing out to Jason even as Yukino burst into laughter. Kneeling down next to the whimpering teen, she winced in sympathy. “Hey, are you okay?”
“Nnnooo...” Jason managed in a high pitched voice, “Man down... ‘Little Jason’ took the hit... game over, man... game over...”
“Baka,” Yukino spat in derision, shaking her head. “It is as I suspected. This has been nothing but a waste of my time.” She peered down at Jason. “You lack discipline. Perhaps you should return to your home and come back when you have gained some skill.”
That caught his attention. “H-hey... hold on... a second,” he wheezed, getting back to his feet. “What’s your deal? We’re all on the same team here, yanno? We should... nnnhhgh... be trying to build each other up... not tear each other down.”
“Hmph. You are not worthy of being on the same team as I,” Yukino said imperiously. “I have trained my entire life, honed my skills through years of practice and dedication... and I have yet to fully master them. And what about you? What kind of training have YOU gone through? What hardships have YOU endured?”
Jason’s eyes narrowed. “Okay. Fine. So I wasn’t raised in a monastery by a bunch of Shaolin monks watching Jackie Chan and Bruce Li movies since I was born—”
“Bah! Impudent dog!” Yuki seethed.
“—BUT that doesn’t mean I don’t take all this seriously. Yeah, I joke around sometimes, and I like to have fun. But these guys brought me here because they think I might be able to use my powers to help people.” Taking a deep breath, he shook his head and assumed a defensive stance. “I may be new to all this... but if there is one thing I have going for me, its that I learn quickly. Ms. Albinn, please restart the simulation.”
Lauren frowned. “Jason, I don’t think you’re ready for this. I know you feel like you have something to prove here, but—”
“I can do this!” he shouted, determination showing in his face. “Please. Just let me show you what I’m capable of, okay?” He turned to stare at the ninja, his eyes flashing with a brief light. “Let me show both of you.”
“All right,” Lauren replied solemnly, walking out of the target area. “Nolan, restart the simulation now, please.”
Acknowledged, Miss Albinn the AI responded, as the guns suddenly whirred to life.
Taking a deep, Jason let himself relax. Just need to calm down and let myself go... let my body do what it knows how to do. My powers seem to work by instinct, so I should try not to overthink this.
The first barrage came suddenly, and again, Jason swerved to the side. When the second blast came, he found his body moving, again, without his conscious effort. He focused his mind only on staying fluid and relaxed, not even thinking about the endless barraged of bullets. Breathe. Focus. Stay loose. A third gun came to life, and he began to sweat slightly, the effort to keep moving starting to take a definite strain.
The two women witnessing the exercise watched in dumbstruck awe. Despite her earlier disdain, Yukino was forced to admit that the boy was moving well. Even with the steadily increasing challenge, the man’s skills seemed to rise to the challenge. It is... disconcerting, she thought, scowling. I can follow his movements perfectly, and his style is a perfect mirror image of my own. That fluidity... that subtle shifting and moving with no wasted motions... if I were not seeing it myself, I would scarcely believe it possible!
As time wound down, however, Jason was finding it harder and harder to keep up. His muscles, unused to such activity, were burning, screaming their protest, even as he pushed through, forcing himself to continue. Dammit... just a bit more... come on... come on! As the final few seconds counted out, he paused briefly, finding himself in the exact spot where Yukino had finally let loose, showing off with a bit of acrobatic flair. The movements were there in his head; he knew just how to copy it, how to perform the maneuver... but his body was thrashed, and he was seriously low on stamina. No... fuck it! he snarled internally. I’m not playing it safe. If I pull it off, fine. If I fail... well, at least I’ll know what my limits are! As the last series fired, he flipped backwards, going into a series of back flips, each harder than the last, feeling his muscles and bones jarring, but ignoring the pain. At the end, he let out a loud bellow of rage and pain as he leapt skyward, pulling off a perfect corkscrew spin, just as the timer his zero... and he landed back on the mat in a heap.
“Jason? JASON!” Lauren yelled, rushing over to the not moving youth. “Jason, can you hear me? Are you all right?”
Blinking his eyes, he managed a soft groan. “Ugghh... how I’d do coach?” he asked weakly. “Did we score the winning goal?” Despite herself, Lauren chuckled.
“You did very well, Jason,” she said warmly, reaching down to lift him up in his arms. “Let’s get you down to the nurse’s office and let them take a look at you. I would imagine you’ve pulled or strained every muscle group in your body.”
“Except my tongue of course,” he managed to wheeze. As he was carried past, however, he called out towards his teammate. “So... Yukino... what did you think... of that?”
The young Asian girl frowned, still deeply disturbed by the boy’s persistence and determination. Finally, she sighed. “You are not... completely without talent, when you devote yourself,” she said grudgingly. “You are still lacking in discipline, however.” She turned on her heel, looking away. “I will expect a much better showing the next time we train together. I expect great things from my teammates, after all.”
Jason chuckled soft, shaking his head. “Damn... cold. A regular ice princess. But... I guess it was sorta a compliment. And I’ll take what I can get...”
Lauren rolled her eyes. “Come on, Romeo. Let’s get you patched up. Yukino is right. Once you’re all healed up again, we’re going to start you in a heavy regiment of strength and endurance training.” He groaned audibly. “And no complaining! Back in my day, the previous trainer would literally work you until you threw up and collapsed.” She chuckled. “I hear she even worked one guy so hard he crapped himself before he passed out cold.” Jason’s only response was another groan.
Nick glanced around idly as he entered the training room, noting the two women talking at the center of the room. A very cute short blonde girl was talking to an equally cute redhead, who as staring at a clipboard and nodding. “Nick! Hey!” the blonde yelled, spying him at the doorway. “Come on over!” Walking over, he reevaluated his earlier assumption slightly. While both of them were definitely cute, beautiful even, they were not mere girls. The blonde had traces of grey in her vibrant yellow mane, and the redhead had faint but noticable laugh lines around her eyes.
“Hi, Nick. I’m Katie Frasier, and this is my partner, Sioban MacMillan,” the blonde said with a nod, extending a hand. “We’ll be supervising your power and control training today. My brother Jimmy is off on a sabbatical for the next few days, so we’re taking over for him.”
“Ah, okay. Cool,” Nick replied, shaking her hand. “So, how are we doing this? Usually, Mr. Frasier has me deflecting and rebounding projectiles fired off by the computer controlled turrets.”
“We’re going to do something a little different this time,” the redhead, Sioban, replied with a smirk. “Nolan is good, but a bit... predictable, after a while. We figured we’d try and shake things up a bit by pairing you with a training partner,” she said, pointing upwards, “to see how you handle a more ‘human’ touch.”
Nick took a step backwards his new teammate, Armor Man, dropped from the ceiling, landing next to him, hand extended. “Hey. You’re the ‘Franklin’ aren’t ya? Good to meet ya! Moses Lawrence, or Armor Man, if ya can’t tell. Probably noticed the accent eh? I’m an Aussie, born n’ bred, but moved to the States with me mum back when I was ten. So, Franklin, looks like we’ll be working together, eh?”
“Um? Franklin? No, my name is Nick...”
Armor Man’s face plate slid back, revealing a young male face with curly brown hair. “Nah, mate! I said the Franklin, ya know? As in the Franklin Badge? Ya know? Mother?” Nick stared at him blankly, and the kid groaned aloud. “Ah, c’non! For real? You’ve NEVER played the Mother games? Earthbound? Their main character, Ness, hit it big in all the Super Smash Brothers fighting games. And Retro games are all the rage right now anyway.”
“Um, yeah, I’m more of an MMORPG guy, actually,” Nick said with a shrug. “So, um, what does this ‘Franklin Badge’ do?”
“It’s this badge you get that saves your butt countless times! It deflects lighting blasts, ZAP! ZAP! and reflects them back at the user, BLOOOOSH!” he gushed, waving his hands around dramatically. “And that’s basically what you do, right? Any time someone blasts you, you ZAP! send it right back at them?”
Nick chuckled. The kid was a bit younger than he and it showed in his enthusiasm and obsession for video games. Geez... this guy might even be worse than Jason.
“Okay, okay, that’s enough socializing for now,” Ms. Frasier said with a shake of her head. “It’s time to start training. Nick, Amor Man is going to fly around and attack you from several different angles, and your job of course is to deflect them. They won’t be a steady stream of attacks like the turrets, however. He will be shooting at random intervals, trying to catch you off guard.” Nick nodded grimly.
“And Moses,” Sioban said, drawing their attention, “this session of training is for you as well. Nick’s power is going to send all of your attacks back at you. You’re going to have to plan carefully and dodge quickly, otherwise you might very well be taken out by your own attacks.” She smirked. “Oh. and Nolan, please disable Armor Man’s automatic counter defenses.”
“Hey! That’s not fair!”
“This exercise is for you, Moses, not your tech,” Sioban chided him. “There are going to be times when all the high tech gadgets and gizmos can’t help you out of a situation, when something fails and you’ll be forced to improvise. Right now, you’re too heavily dependent on your computer to do everything. This training session is about putting you back in the driver’s seat.”
“Ugh... alright. Fine,” he said as his helmet slid back into place. “Okay, Franklin,” his digitized voice started as he powered up his suit. “Let’s see what yer made of, eh?”
Nick bristled slightly. “For the last time, its not ‘Franklin’. My name is Nick. But if you want my code name, it’s Touchstone.”
“All right kids,” Katie called out as she and Sioban retreated off the practice floor. “Begin!”
“Tuuuu-right!” Armor Man yelled out, raising his gauntlets. “Let’s see how you like a few dum dums,” he stated, sending out a stream of rubber bullets at his partner. Nick grunted, his shield snapping up in front of him, repelling and sending the stream back at its source. Caught momentarily off guard, not expecting the stream to actually come back at him, Moses yelped taking a hit or two before getting up his own shield. “Whoo-hooa! They were right! It did come back at me,” he said, laughing, flying up a bit higher to get some distance. “I was wondering if it be a pure reflection reaction instead of a deflection. At this angle, the bullets should have deflected back to the left at a forty-five degree angle, but instead they came directly back at me! It completely breaks the laws of physics! Fascinating... I’d love a chance to study it in depth—”
“Focus, Armor Man,” Ms. MacMillan’s voice called out. “Don’t get distracted. Stay on mission.”
“OH! Tuuu-right! Gotta finish training before going all mad scientist again,” he chuckled, He fired again, sending out another stream of bullets, this time prepared with Touchstone’s shield sent them back his way. For the next several minutes the two went back and forth, with Moses flying around, shooting randomly, trying to catch him off guard, and Nick blocking with his shield, again and again, easily stopping each attack but quickly becoming drained from directing his shield repeatedly.
“You know, mate,” Armor Man called out, causing him to glance up after the last sortie, “I’ve been scanning you as we spar. That shield of yours... fascinating. It seems automatic, but you can guide or focus it a bit. So I wonder... how will you respond with a three hundred and sixty degree assault?” With that, several slots on his armor opened up, and a barrage of small miniture missiles shot out.
“Wait! Armor Man! What are you doing?” Katie yelled as a barrage of more than a hundred tiny missiles swept over the area before locking onto Nick who stood wide-eyed. “This wasn’t in the training!”
“No worries,” he can handle it,” Moses replied simply, hovering back to watch as the projectiles closed in on all sides. “Besides, they’re just harmless... eh?” he paused, then swore loudly. “OH SHITE! I forget to set them to non-lethal! They’re live!”
Already focused on defending himself, Touchstone closed his eyes and focused, mentally grabbing his shield’s energy, and wrapping it around himself like a cocoon just before the first missiles struck. He winced, feeling the pressure, the energy needed to repulse them draining him to his limits, bringing him to his knees, but he marshaled through with a cry, deflecting them back at their source.
“SHIIITT!” Armor Man yelled, as a group of missiles came flying back at him, bringing up his own shields. At contact a loud explosion sent him flying backwards, slamming into the wall from the impact. Stunned, he slid down, staring back as several more missiles headed his way.
A loud voice called out, and the entire room went white as a bright light flooded the area. Several soft pops sounded, as if the missiles were exploding but muffled, or more likely, contained. When the brightness faded, Nick glanced up to see Ms. Frasier, glowing, with her arms outstretched, floating in the middle of the room. With a sigh, the flow faded and she dropped back down to the floor, walking over to Nick even as Sioban made her way over to check on Moses. “Are you all right?” she asked, bending down to help him back to his feet. “You aren’t hurt, are you?”
“No... I’m okay...” he said, panting... “just really tired... uhnn... that took a lot of me...”
“Stone! Mate... you okay?” Moses asked, sprinting over to join him, having shed his armor, clad in normal T-shirt and jeans now. “Sorry about that, man! It was totally an accident. I swear, I didn’t think that I’d—”
“That’s exactly right, Moses,” Ms. MacMillan cut in sharply. “You didn’t think. At all! This session was for you to learn to use good judgement, remember? Using live rounds in practice? You could have seriously hurt Nick... or yourself!” The boy sighed, his head hanging low.
“But he didn’t,” Nick said, speaking up, causing the angry redhead to glance his way. “Look, Ma’am, I’m not trying to excuse his actions or anything. You’re right. We both could have been badly hurt, maybe even killed. He made a mistake in judgement. But, well... that’s kind of why we’re here, right? To learn from our mistakes in a safe environment, with guys to save our butts if we get in too deep?” Moses glanced up at him in surprise. “I’d have preferred NOT to know what i can do in a real life or death situation,” he said, smirking at the younger boy, “but thanks to you, I now know I can use my shield in all directions at once. That will come in handy.”
“Y-yeah,” he mumbled softly nodding. “Thanks. And again, I’m REALLY sorry about that, mate. I ‘d been tinkering with her earlier, revamping a few systems, and I just... forgot to turn the non-lethal protocols back on when I was done. But... it won’t happen again, I promise!”
Katie and Sioban glanced at each other. “Well, aside from that last bit, you both did quite well,” Katie conceded. “And yes, you’re correct, This is a learning environment. And you did both learn something important here today... so we’ll leave it at that. You’re probably a bit tired, particularly you, Nick, so why don’t you boys go get cleaned up and grab some lunch. Bonnie and I will handle clean-up here,”
“Okay. Thanks Ms. Frasier,” Nick said, waving, as he and Moses headed out.
“She’s a cute one, eh?” the curly headed boy said grinning, leaning into Nick as they exited the training room. “Both of them, really. But don’t go getting any ideas, mate. Those two birds... they aren’t into men. They’re into each other, if you catch my drift.” Nick blinked at that. “At any rate, I’m gonna grab a quick shower before heading off to lunch. That armor get a wee bit warm with all her systems running. What about you? Gonna strip down to yer skivvies and wash up?”
“I’m good, thanks.” Nick replied with a grin. “I’ll see you in the lunch room.”
Two months ago
Jason flopped down on the bed of his room and sighed. They had spent several weeks in grueling training sessions, focusing on teamwork and collaboration between their powers. It was slow progress, and Jason was exhausted.
If the Headmaster makes me run wind sprints one more time I think my legs might turn to jelly
They had met their teammates, Moses, Yukino, and Anna soon after they had arrived. Jason, Moses, and Nick had hit it off immediately, but their other teammates were quite amiable as well.
Well, except for Yukino. I’m not sure that girl has ever had a great day.
Rolling onto his back, Jason massaged his palms, he had spent hours working with firearms and adopting various exotic stretches and yoga poses, and even with his ability to learn things so quickly, it had been a real struggle.
“Hey! Jason, got a second?”
A knock came on his door and sat up in bed, there stood Anna’s slender form standing at his door frame. Her blonde hair was still damp from a shower, and she was wearing pink pajama pants and an oversized t-shirt. Even so, no makeup, no frills, his teammate was breathtaking, and he had totally developed a little crush on the beauty.
“Oh yeah sure!” Jason said, sitting up quickly, slicking his hair back and trying to fix it as quickly as he could.
She sat down in his desk chair and faced him. Slightly embarrassed, he realized that he had no shirt on, but it was too late for that now, he would just have to roll with it.
“So, what can I do for ya?”
Jason caught himself flexing a little, trying to show off any muscles he did have. Anna nervously responded,
“Well, it’s about…I have a favor to ask I guess.”
“Ok yeah sure.” Jason said, growing more tense every moment.
“Well…how long have you known Nick?”
Internally, Jason sighed, outwardly he smiled, “We’ve been friends since middle school.”
“And during that time…has he dated anyone? Girls? Boys?”
Jason shook his head, “No one in particular. He’s been interested in a few girls I think. Thats it.”
Anna nodded with a big smile, “Ok. Good to know.”
She sat up and began making her exit, “Hey wait!” Jason called after her.
“Can I ask what this is about? Do you like him?”
Anna blushed, “Oh no! No! I’m asking for someone else!”
She waved in hands in front of her defensively.
Is she…is she defensive because she’s trying to cover up for herself, or something else?
Jason smiled, “Uh huh, sure.”
“I’m serious!” She said, putting her hands on her hips, “Besides, don’t expect me to go spilling the beans even if I did.”
“Ok, ok.” Jason said with a smile, “I doth think you protest too much, but I’ll let it slide. Out of curiosity, how has this all been for you?”
“Being a part of this school?” Anna asked.
She paused and considered, “Well it’s been good I think.”
She gave him a big smile, she was always pretty bubbly Jason thought to himself,
It’s pretty cute to be honest.
“Did you do superhero things beforehand?”
Anna shook her head, “No. But Professor Albinn recruited me once I discovered my powers a few weeks back.”
“How did you discover your powers?”
Anna put a finger to her chin in thought, “Well…I found this weird gem one day and I was like… ‘what is this weird rock?’ but then I picked it up to figure out more and then the next thing I know I can like fly and read minds and stuff.”
“Whoa wait! I thought you were just casting magical spells?! You can read minds too? All I got was this stupid ability to be a copy cat. Like what’s so good about that?! If I try copying your ability to fly and jump off a cliff I’m dead!”
Anna giggled, “Yeah well while I was experimenting one day, nearly killed myself casting a spell of permanence on the psychic enchantments I had placed on myself and I didn’t even want to make it permanent. But now it is.”
Anna shrugged, “But I try not to read the minds of most people. It makes life difficult, and constantly awkward.”
Jason nodded, spread his arms wide and closed his eyes, “What am I thinking now?”
“Are you sure?” Anna asked, a bit shy.
Jason nodded vigorously and Anna extended her powers outward.
“A…cat? A lion! I see a lion. Oh and…uh…oh!”
Anna withdrew deeply embarrassed.
“Nothing! Nothing! I’ll just be going now!”
Anna quickly made her exit leaving Jason stupefied. With an exaggerated stretch, Jason let out a yawn,
Well that was weird, guess I’ll just go to bed.
“What is it, Hack?”
“Trouble with a capital ‘T’,” he answered, gesturing to the monitor. “Looks like ol’ Professor Chronus has parted ways with the so-called Council of Evil and decided to strike out on his own. And it looks like he finally rebuilt his Chrono Distorter from the last time we smashed it. His giant mech is causing major chaos downtown.”
“Dammit,” Kyle replied with a long suffering sigh. “And it had started out to be such a good day, too. All right. Who have we got available?”
“Well, besides you, Jimmy and Katie are both in house. Splash is currently in Midas City, but Sunbeam is here. I think Tone just got back in an hour ago,” he said, scrolling through the roster. “Oh, and there are already two people on site right now, trying to hold him off.”
“Really? Who is it?”
“Its the Angels,” Hack stated, bringing up a video of the incident downtown. “Ravenheart and her new partner, Peregrine.” He zoomed in on the duo, the dark skinned senior partner, and her rookie, a slender dark haired Asian girl.
“Hmmm. No problem then. Definitely enough people to take down one lunatic in a giant mech. Still, the dozen or so Chrono-bots he brought with him are no joke.”
“So... need some help, then?”
Kyle and Hack glanced over to find Nick Park standing in the doorway. “This area is restricted access, kid,” Hack said with a frown. “How’d you even get in here, anyway?”
Nick shrugged. “I saw the Headmaster heading this way with a serious look on his face, and decided to follow and see what’s going on. I slid my foot in before the door closed behind him.”
Kyle chuckled ruefully. If nothing else, he admired the kid’s spirit. “Well, Nick, we do have a situation here, but I don’t think you kids are ready for the big time just yet. Me and some of the instructors are going to head out to take care of this. You guys should focus on getting settled in, and getting to know your teammates.”
“Seriously!? Isn’t this the kind of thing you brought us in here for in the first place?” Nick argued. “Take me with you! I can help you guys out. And, well...” he said, awkwardly, “it’s not as if this is the first super villain I’ve faced in my life.”
Kyle frowned, crossing his arms. “Well, I would hardly taking down a pair of car jackers, a bank robber, and a mugger ‘Super villains’,” he stated, causing Nick to blink in surprise.
“H... how did you know all of that?” he demanded. “How long have you been spying on me?”
“As I said before, we do our homework,” Kyle replied with a shrug. “My point is, while you do have some experience, yes... but I’d say this is a bit out of your league.”
But Nick shook his head. “Look. I can be useful, okay? You’ve already seen how my power works. I’m not saying I can take down this mad doctor guy all by myself or anything... but I can help you guys with this. You said you wanted me to be the leader of this team you’re putting together, right? Well, the best way for me to do this is to get some actual experience, and see up close and personal what it’s like.” He shrugged. “Besides, I’ll have a bunch of real heroes and heroines to back me up and keeping me safe, right?”
Kyle considered for a moment, before sighing deeply. “Okay. Fine, you can come.”
“WHAT?!?” Hack exclaimed, staring at his friend as if he’d suddenly grown a second head. “Are you serious? You’re actually planning to bring a kid with you to that battlezone?”
“He has a point, Hack. This is the very thing we’ve brought them here to do. And what better chance for the kid to get some field training than right now?” He turned to glance at Nick. “As for you... you WILL go where I tell you, DO what I tell you, without any lip or back talk. If I tell you to retreat, you book it out of there. Capiche?”
Nick nodded solemnly. “Got it.”
“Alright then. Hack, alert the others and have them meet in the Ready Room. We leave in five.” He walked to the door, glancing back at Nick. “Oh, and I suppose you should think of a name for yourself on the way out. We’ll all be using code names, and I can’t rightly keep referring to you as ‘kid’ out in the field.”
“Don’t worry, Sir,” Nick replied with a grin. “I do actually have something in mind.”
The city was chaos to Nick, yet his teammates seemed calm. Measured.
Experienced, I guess.
Which made sense. They were seasoned veterans after all, he was the new kid on the block. But he resolved that, despite his anxieties, he was going to make a difference today.
“Are you ready Touchstone?” the beautiful woman to his right asked.
Nick turned, “Uh yeah.”
He had come up with the name himself. With the training and flexing of his powers, Nick had discovered his ability to tap into the “essence” of someone, storing crucial memories of who that person was within himself as well as his power detection ability and his “meta-shield” as he now called it. He had been working daily with Mr. Frasier and Lacie to train his meta-shield from just sort of a walking aura around him, to actually being able to project it a little further from his body, forming a wall of sorts to protect him from damage.
It was still strange to be called his codename however. This hero thing had been a pipe dream of his, but now it was an ever-present reality. Now he was surrounded by supers, about to fight a supervillain, and he himself was going to save citizens and protect the city. Tone had been assigned to team up with him. But Nick could tell it was also to protect him, nurture him along, and ensure he did what he was told.
Still, there are worse/less hot babysitters to have. Kyle sure got himself an attractive woman. There was that hot goth chick running around too who gave him a kiss.
“Yeah. Sorry.” Nick responded, shaking his head. “We haven’t really worked on my tech too much yet.”
Valkyrie smiled, “It is not a problem. Having a dashing young man in my arms for a change would be nice.”
Nick could feel himself blushing. Luckily, the one piece of armor tech that Moses had been able to hook him up with was his mask, which covered up his embarrassment. The one piece mask contoured to his face, was bulletproof, and had several settings to allow him to perceive in the dark, bright light, ultraviolet, heat, etc. The rest for Nick was just a hoodie and jeans. Besides the mask, he just looked like some punk kid.
And he felt like one too, running around with the big leaguers, stopping a crime wave that the larger populace as a whole didn’t want the heroes sticking their noses in. Tone picked him up gently, but then took to the skies, exiting the back of the plane they had arrived in at a rapid pace.
“Tell me Touchstone. How does it feel? Your first time like this?” Tone asked him gently.
“I’m pretty nervous!” Nick yelled over the wind.
“Don’t worry. I’ll be around to make sure things are alright.”
“Anything I should know about these enemies or you? Weaknesses, strengths? Death rays? Ex-Boyfriends?”
Tone shook her head with a giggle, “Not in particular. I’m nigh invulnerable. Chrono-bots are nothing special either. Just watch out for their death gaze. Takes a second to warm up so there’s a warning, but otherwise, pretty deadly. Hurts me a bit too.”
Nick nodded as they descended into the city, touching down on street level. Nick double checked his stun guns and pulled out his shock sticks that the he had been practicing with, and spun them around, nervously.
From down the street two Chrono-bots leaped forward, grabbing onto a car and readying their gaze to fry two scared citizens inside.
“Valkyrie!” Nick called out in desperation.
But Tone was already a step ahead of him, soaring forward and smashing the two Chrono-bots to smithereens. Nick ran up and grabbed the two citizens and found a safe place for them to hide, escorting them to shelter as Tone fired powerful blasts of energy to keep more Chrono-bots at bay. As Nick rushed forward, smashing his shock stick into the gut of a Chrono-bot, another appeared to his right, death gaze already half cocked.
Spinning wildly, Nick made a madcap swing at his enemy only to be shocked to see the head get cut clean off by a car-door-turned-frisbee. Nick sighed relief, and Tone gave him a thumbs up.
Damn. Guess I’m in the big leagues now. Oh shit!
“Tone! Look out!” Nick cried.
Rushing forward, Nick leaped in front of a death gaze from a downed Chrono-bot on its death throes. Nick grunted as he felt the laser beam burn against his meta-shield but reflect back against the Chrono-bot.
Offering him a hand, Tone helped Nick to his feet as he rubbed his chin.
“Ugh. You’re right. Death gaze…watch out for it.”
Tone smiled at him, “Good job. Let’s keep on moving.”
“Yeah, okay,” Jason said, nodding, and he spoke into his cell phone, walking down the hall. “Yeah, I know. I know.” He sighed deeply, rolling his eyes, glancing up as his teammate Yukino Taya walked by. “Yes, Ma, I promised you that I am eating well. And... what? Of course I am remembering to put on clean underwear!” Yukino stopped walking, pausing to turn back around. “Er, Ma, this isn’t exactly the best time for this conversation, okay?” he said tersely as Yukino gave him a curious stare. “Ma, I’ll call back later, okay?” He frowned, sighing, cheeks going red as a smirk creased Yukino’s lips. “Ma, please... don’t make me do this right now, okay?” he pleased, before sighing in defeat. “Okay, okay... fine. ‘Ja-Ja misses his mommy’, too. Bye,” he murmured, wincing the dark haired ninja girl burst into laughter.
“‘Ja-ja misses his mommy?’” she repeated, nearly doubling over. “Did I hear that correctly?”
Jason rolled his eyes. “Yeah. She’s been missing me since I’ve been here, and when she’s in full blown ‘mom-mode’, she reverts to baby talk. And she wasn’t going to get off the line until I responded back.” He grinned slightly. Despite his complaint, it had been nice to talk with his mom. Truth be told, he missed her as much as she missed him. “Let me guess. Your mom’s not the sentimental type?”
All levity fled from Yukino’s face. “Yes. You could say that,” she replied stiffly, turning to walk on.
“Hey, wait,” Jason called out, walking to catch up with her. “Did I say something wrong?”
“No,” Yuki replied, blandly. “not at all. It’s just... I do not speak to my family... much these days. I am considered something of a... disappointment.”
Jason frowned at that. “Wait. A disappointment? No way.” He sprinted a head of her, blocking her advance. “I mean, you’re from a clan of ninja, right? And you’re like the most badass fighter I’ve ever seen! How could YOU be a disappointment to them?”
Yuki scowled for a moment, then sighed. “It’s nothing that a gaijun could understand,” she stated after a moment, “but the Taya line is a very important and revered family line in my country. Or... we were. My clan has fallen on hard times, and their hopes lay with having an heir to carry on the tradition and teachings of our lineage.” She sighed. “And by that, I mean a male heir. My father’s side of the family was the main branch, and even with all my male cousins, my family is the only one considered to hold the TRUE bloodline.”
“Huh,” Jason said softly, not really knowing what to say to that. “And I’m guessing your old man wasn’t able to have any more kids after you?”
“He died two years after I was born,” Yukino replied with a shrug, “so I would have to say, yes.”
Jason nodded softly. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to bring up such a sensitive subject.” He let out a soft sigh, then, surprising Yuki, he gave her a tight hug. “But guess what? You’re with us now. If your old family thinks of you as a disappointment, screw ’em! You’re part of a NEW family now.” He squeezed her gently for a moment more before letting her go, walking away, leaving her stunned and unsure how to respond. After a long moment, she shook her head.
Huh. Stupid gaijun, she thought, and his foolish, naive American values. She turned and headed back towards her room. Still... to be valued... as a member of a loving family... with no strings attached. It is a nice thought...
Returning from the mission, Nick had several bruises and cuts but overall he was in good shape. Although they were unable to apprehend Dr. Chronus himself, the mission was still overall a success, despite the media’s blurring of lines. Nick largely ignored the headlines as best he could, more tired than anything else from a long afternoon fighting crime.
Heading to the fridge tucked into the corner of the dorm kitchen, Nick poured himself a glass of chocolate milk and sat down at couch sectional in the lounge. Taking a big swig of his drink and then setting it down on the coffee table, Nick leaned back into the couch, allowing the cushions to form around his body as he did his best to relax.
Rolling over the events of the day in his mind, his thoughts were drawn back to mistakes he had made. He had wasted his powers multiple times protecting Tone and some of the other heroes from things that they were already highly resistant or immune to. His hero complex had led him to waste his powers multiple times.
Jason was leaning against the wall of the kitchen looking at him, Nick hadn’t even seen him enter. “You kinda look like shit dude.”
Nick shook his head, “I can’t talk about it, sorry.”
“You sure? You look like you need it.”
Nick looked at him and shook his head. Jason shrugged, offered some vague condolences, and left the room with the glass of apple juice he had grabbed from the fridge. Nick sighed, playing over the thoughts in his head.
Resolving to not just wallow in his sorrows, Nick made his way to the training room, stripping off his t-shirt as he entered the room. To his surprise, Yukino was already inside training away as she performed exotic and graceful flips, spins, and acrobatic movements. Ignoring her as best he could, he took a deep breath.
“Nolan, pull up my meta-shield resistance training.”
“Right away sir.”
The simulation brought up a bunch of test attacks, firing at him with blunt objects, energy blasts, fireballs, everything of the sort. He cried in a rage as his meta-shield protected him from everyone. At the height of his concentration, his powers blazing, his meta-shield being bombarded by a flamethrower, he felt a hand on his shoulder.
Freezing up, he looked and saw Yukino, looking him straight in the eye.
“Nolan. Stop training module.” Nick called out, and the AI responded, the flames dying with his words.
“Shuryo, if you keep up this pace, you will surely hurt yourself.”
Nick looked at her and sighed, “Yeah. I know.”
“Then I am correct in determining that you are troubled?”
“You could say that yeah.”
“Please then. Allow me to be of assistance.”
Nick raised an eyebrow, “Ok sure…what do you have in mind?”
Leading him back to her room, which was decorated with bamboo flooring and paper screens, she had Nick sit down as she served him some tea.
“Is your body relaxed?” She asked, sitting cross legged on the floor in her baggy pants and ninja garb. Her eyes were closed but focused as if she was searching for something.
“More so now.” Nick replied, “Thank you for the tea.”
“If your body is not relaxed, then your mind will struggle to be. Lay on the floor, face first.”
“Uh…” Nick put his teacup down, confused, “Are you—alright… Sure then.”
Laying on the floor, Nick was painfully aware that he was still shirtless and that it was now later at night and that he was alone with Yukino in her dimly lit room. He tensed slightly as he felt soft hands against the small of his back, a cold liquid covering the palms.
“Would it have to do with the attack on the city this afternoon?” She asked.
Nick looked at her, surprised, but then nodded.
“I saw you leave with the teachers.” Yukino explained, “It is quite uncommon that they took you along.”
“Well, they said I shouldn’t talk about it with anyone, but if you already know I guess I can.”
“You did well for your first experience in combat. Your assessment of actual danger versus the reality of danger was poor, but that is to be expected.”
“Expected?” Nick inquired.
Yukino nodded, “You’re our shuryo, our leader, but you are still young and new. It is understandable that you make mistakes. And it is best to make mistakes when in the company of those who are teaching you, rather than when you are leading others.”
“Huh,” Nick breathed, “Wise words.”
Nick let out a few satisfied groans as Yukino’s palms ground into his back. Nick couldn’t help but wonder if Yukino thought this was strange, if not at least somewhat intimate or sexual, but he couldn’t lift his head, and the massage felt wonderful…
Best not to let her stop, best not to say anything about that. Though, I am curious—
“Yukino.” Nick groaned, “Can I ask you—ah!—a question?”
“Of course shuryo.” She said as she pressed her knuckles against a knot in his shoulder.
“You’ve been…curt with the other team members. Why have you been so polite with me? Helpful even?”
Yukino stopped for a second, paused, and then calmly answered with a chuckle.
“You are perhaps the only one worthy of respect.”
Nick leaned up and looked over his shoulder inquisitively, “Really? What makes you say that?”
Yukino stopped, “The answer is twofold: The Headmaster has selected you as our leader and he is a man worthy of respect. Secondly, your leadership, although new, I can see the promise.”
“Wow.” Nick let her words sink in. Yukino was not an optimist or an encouraging person by any means. She was blunt, curt, and by the book. “That means a lot coming from you. Thanks.”
“Don’t let it go to your head!” Yukino bopped him on the head for emphasis. “Now just let me finish this massage and you can be on your way. This is for the benefit of the team after all. Can’t have our leader sore and stressed out.”
“Yeah, thanks Yukino I-ah!—appreciate it.” Nick groaned as Yukino laid into his shoulder, painfully, wonderfully, easing the knots out of his muscles.
It hurts too good!