A several miles outside of Mayfield in Madison County, there was a small farm barely large enough to claim that title. A pair of modest fields grew corn and soy while around back, a couple of acres were given over to a handful of horses. Along the northern edge of the property, there was an old, three-story farmhouse, built in the days when stone and timber were the building materials of choice and granted longevity from that fact.
Beneath that farm was a maze of concrete tunnels and box rooms that had once been an ICBM silo, long since decommissioned and sold off to a half dozen owners over the years who by some miracle never turned out to be supervillains.
Except for the most current one. And they had seen fit to turn the place into a school. A school expressly to train the next generation of villain. Built, staffed and run in secret, the place didn’t have a name. The students and faculty just called it The School.
At the heart of the school, in the cavernous room where once stood a weapon that could devastate a city, there was now a metal-floored training arena, where now stood someone who had the potential to do the same.
Tamara Daye, also called Bad Lass, was one of the original students of the school, back when they’d been staying in the city of Fredricksburg while the real school was being completed. She was in her training uniform; an outfit of her own design featuring a long-sleeved, dark purple undershirt, black t-shirt with a purple smilie face that was scowling rather than smiling, and black cargoes. A pair of heavy, steel-toed boots adorned her feet and she wore a pair of fingerless leather gloves with the backs cut out and steel rings around the knuckles alongside a belt of interlocking chrome rings. A choker of silver plates etched with the words BAD LASS separated by an ankh rested on her neck and a pair of black metal goggles with purple-tinted lenses perched atop her head.
Messy, black hair fell down past her shoulders, framing a heart-shaped face set off by piercing blue eyes.
She had her arms crossed an an annoyed expression on her face as she waited for her parring partner. As she did so, she glanced toward the tinted glass of one of the observation booths built into the wall of the room.
Through it, she could just make out Brain Child. For a long time, he’d been the only one around for her to talk to at the School. She didn’t really like him, but also didn’t hate him either. He’d learned to stop hitting on her and not to start telepathic conversations without warning easily enough and without her having to hurt him, so she tolerated him, but they had too little in common to be what she’d called friends.
Really, there were only three other students at the School so far and she wouldn’t call any of them her friends. Aside from Brain Child, Dan Cheboi gave her the distinct impression that he didn’t even want to be at the School.
And then there was Petra Jules. Tamara did not like thing one about Petra Jules, who went by the codename Golden Aegis. As far as she was concerned, the other girl was a prim and proper priss and teacher’s pet who acted all friendly while probably wishing she had someone around to gossip with behind her back.
To make things worse, Petra was able to keep up with her in a fight. No one Tamara ever met before could do that and to be frank, it pissed her off.
Speak of the devil, the doors at the far end of the room opened and Petra strolled in, right on time (which to Tamara’s mind meant ‘late’) for their daily sparring session. She too had on her training uniform: a padded red leather vest over a long-sleeved fitted shirt, a canvas skirt to match the vest over black leggings and calf-length soft boots that went with the same colors as the vest and skirt. In addition, she wore elbow length black calfskin gloves and a set of sport goggles with red lenses to replace the glasses she usually wore. Her red hair hung in a thick braid down to the small of her back.
“Hello, Tamara!” She greeted with a little wave and a smile, “Ready to spar?”
More accurately, Tamara wanted to punch the freckles off hr face, but close enough. She flexed her hands into fists and took a fighting stance. The combat trainer, Mr. Steed, insisted she learn some martial arts, which she thought was exceptionally stupid considering she could punch through a bus, but it was easier to go through the motions than argue over something so dumb. “Let’s go, Goldilocks.”
Petra only nodded at the taunt and brought her hands together in front of her. Warm, yellow light awoke there and when she pulled them apart, the space was filled with her namesake: hundreds of thousands of tiny golden scales, each smaller than a pinkie nail and shaped like a teardrop with the top point bifurcated. They swirled and linked together at her command, come forming a pair of formless clouds over her fists while others converged to form an ornate breastplate over her chest, vambraces on her arms, and boots and shinguards over her legs.
“Ready.” When her powers were active, Tamara felt like the ‘real’ Petra came out. All the soft talk and friendly facades fell away, leaving a cold, strong persona behind. The instructors said it was a mental side effect from directing what was basically a swarm of nanoassemblers. She thought it was more likely her being too distracted to fake it.
Up in the observation booth, Brain Child brought the various monitors, automated systems and most importantly, defensive measures of the training room online. Without the last one, the whole place might come down in a fight between the school’s heavy hitters.
“Training session start.” The speakers in the room came to life with a robotic voice. “Bad Lass versus Golden Aegis. Begin.”
Tamara didn’t waste a moment, kicking off the floor in a burst of red sparks, she launched at full speed at her opponent.
In response, Petra brought up a forearm and caused her power to assemble into a tower shield which she planted firmly. Tamara planted a foot and struck it with her fist, red sparks dancing everywhere as her power tried to redirect her kinetic energy into the shield.
This was the main reason Tamara hated Petra so much: telekinetic force—the ‘stuff’ that Petra’s scales were made of—wasn’t physical matter let alone solid matter. And the single limit to Tamara’s incredible power was that it could only transfer energy across solid matter.
The entire room let out a boom as the excess energy rebounded back into Tamara, through her foot and into the metal floor, which was designed specifically to distribute the titanic forces and impacts the students could dish out.
In the split second Tamara had to draw back, Petra disassembled her shield and reformed it into a one-handed hammer, which she swung underhand to catch Tamara under the chin, sending her reeling. The follow-up strike, however was met with an open palm, all the force it imparted sent harmlessly into the floor. With her free hand, Tamara reached for Petra’s unprotected upper arm.
Knowing this wouldn’t end well, Petra released her hammer, allowing it to return to a cloud of scales, and leapt back. Tamara followed with fists flying, forcing Petra to bring her arms up for a cross block. Even with her constructed vambraces protecting her from Tamara’s power, the fact remained that she was a very strong young woman all on her own, a great deal more so than the already athletic Petra. Each hit wasn’t as bone shattering as they would be against a normal opponent, but they did hurt and drive her back.
As the next blow came for her, however, Petra dodged instead of blocking, and then ducked under the attempted counter. A round shield formed over her arm and with a grunt of effort, she planted it in Tamara’s gut and used all her strength to force the other girl into the air.
Then her other arm came up, the armor over her chest reassembling into a battering ram that expanded into being such that it struck the floor, then the underside of the shield with enough force to send Tamara airborne.
“Oh, you bi–” Tamara started to snarl before slamming into a simple platform made of the golden scaled. Petra, now sans all her scaled save the ones covering her feet and calves, hopped nimbly onto the platform and took a boxer’s stance.
“It is the only way to take your power out of the equation.” She explained, shifting the scales on her legs up to form a curiass over her abdomen, thin strips over her knuckles, and a helmet around her head.
Getting to her feet, Tamara glared at her. “Now we both know that’s not true. I’ll still hit twice as hard if I make contact.”
“Then I should not allow you to make contact.” Petra observed before launching into a flurry of blows.
Up in the observation booth, Brain child took note of Petra’s new tactic, typing all his observations into a small netbook. Petra learned and had a new trick after almost every spar. She’d figured out that getting Tamara off the ground limited her power a week ago and had been trying different methods of keeping her off it ever sense.
He also once again made note of his concerns about Petra’s personality shift. While he couldn’t read minds unless they linked to him, he could still ‘feel’ them and once her powers were active, it was like Petra was dead. Numb. The School’s administrator, Edward Telluson, assured her that was what would make the young woman an idea villain for their benefactor’s plans. Brain Child wondered if it was really a good idea to have someone so powerful around who neither knew fear nor loyalty.
On the other hand, maybe having her emotionless in the powered state was for the best: just in case she ever found out how he’d been nudging her and the others into staying with the School even though none of them particularly wanted to be ‘villains’.
Down below, Tamara proved she wasn’t just dumb muscle by jumping off the platform and waiting for Petra to come to her. She was going to be the one they needed to worry about. No one had been able to befriend her and she only stayed around because she had no place else to go. It would only take a push to make her turn on them.
A tingle in the back of his head prompted him to save his work and close the netbook. Moments later, the door to the booth opened.
“I didn’t think you’d come down here unless you were scheduled to spar.”
“Mr. Telluson told me he wants me to watch the rest of you sparring and report on it from now on.” Dan Cheboi sunk into the seat next to Brain Child.
If the girls were opposites in attitude, Dan and ‘Henry’ (as Brain Child told people his real name was) were opposites in look.
Brain Child was as white as a fish’s belly and kept his pale hair long and unkempt, preferring to dress in worn, torn jeans and whatever t-shirt smelled the least objectionable. At the moment, he had on cargoes with one pocket torn out and a rumpled Washington Gridlock football jersey.
By contrast, Dan had dark skin some might call mahogany and had his hair cut short. He usually wore button down shirts with nice jeans, which is what he had on at the moment. The only thing unusual about him was that he was never out of breath, or tired, something that annoyed Brain Child, whose constitution could be called ‘fragile’ in the same way a Ming vase atop a rickety ladder placed behind a door in the Marx Brothers’ house was fragile.
“He told everyone the same thing,” said Brainchild. “It’s to get us used to learning the styles of whatever opponents we might come up against.”
“Superheroes. We’re supposed to be learning how to fight superheroes.” There was a question in his statement, making it clear he hadn’t accepted the entire premise of the School yet.
Fighting the urge to roll his eyes, Brainchild nodded. “Unless something’s changed in the last couple of months, that’s still the deal.” He smirked as, down on the training room floor, Petra entangled one of Tamara’s arms with a whip formed from her power and was trying to pull her off balance. “Of course, some of us Actually need to fight. We can actually get hurt.”
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Dan frown. “It still hurts—that’s the problem. I just don’t… bleed or suffer organ failure or anything like that. Hell, I still die. It’s just that… whatever it is I’ve got starts over again when I do.”
Not that Dan knew, but Brain Child had been made aware of the fact that he wasn’t a descendant. His power came from magic, apparently a wish granted ‘wrong’. Edward Telluson had lured him to the School with the promise of understanding and controlling his esoteric power.
“Speaking of, what did you pick this time?”
Dan folded his arms. “Mr. Telluson wanted me to try a toughness build. I’m worried he’s going to make me spar with one of them.” He inclined his head toward the two warring girls.
“I don’t know how whatever it is your power is aping works, but I doubt they’ve got anything that can stand up against either of them.”
“I know,” Dan said darkly, “I think he just wants to see how much punishment I can take until I die this time.” He watched as Tamara jerked on the whip, causing Petra to stumble into a spinning elbow to the face, a blow that was only softened by a swift rearranging of her powers. Nonetheless, the blow sent Petra to the floor.
“Do you think they would actually kill me? I mean, they know I’ll come back… would that mean they’d be okay doing it?”
Seeing no reason to lie, Brain Child shrugged and sat back, hands behind his head. The room was counting down as Petra tried to get up and Tamara went for the pin. “Well we are training to be the bad guys. Hell, I half expect graduation will be just one big game of assassin without the water guns.”
“You sound almost happy about that.”
“I didn’t think they were joking when they made the pitch to me.” He gave Dan a sober look. “Look on the bright side though: the girls didn’t either, so maybe Tamara won’t want to kill you if you don’t piss her off.”
“What about Petra? She seems pretty nice.”
A nasty little smile curled Brain Child’s lips. “Seems. But I wouldn’t look to make many friends around here, Dan. Make no mistake: we’re all competition for each other in the long run.”
Below, a siren sounded, announcing the end of the match. Tamara reluctantly stopped pounding on Petra, who rolled away from her and powered down. Dan watched them both, unable to keep his imagination from putting himself in each of their shoes—and imagining the horrible aftermath.
“I think I’ll head to the library.” he said quietly and got up.
“Have a nice day!” Brain Child said cheerfully.
Dan left the observation booth as quickly as possible and headed around to the elevator up to the main house. His mind worked overtime and for the first time ever, he was glad no one else understood how his power worked.
He’d lied to Brain Child. Telluson asked him to try a social build instead of one for toughness. It had already borne fruit in the form of alerting him to the fact that not only was Brainchild lying to him about… many things, but he was also trying to manipulate him.
A sick feeling hit him as he briefly thought about how he wouldn’t have picked up on anything like that before the last time he’d died and wondered if he would have if he hadn’t become… whatever he was now. It damn sure wasn’t human.
He hit the button for the elevator and considered where he should go instead of the library. He didn’t want to be anywhere Brainchild expected him to be. Ever again if possible.
“Hello, Dan.” a cheery voice came from behind him. He looked up to see Petra, water bottle in hand, towel draped around her neck. It suddenly struck him that Brain Child had very pointedly not speculated on whether or not she would kill him if she had to or not.
“Hey.” He replied, gauging her body language and words with his new-found people skills. “I saw your sparring match. Pretty intense.” The elevator doors opened and they both stepped in.
Petra inclined her head graciously. “Tamara is incredible even when I neutralize her power. One day, I’ll figure out how to beat her.”
No malice, no hurt feelings; she sounded like she was happy to have a challenge if anything. “Yeah, I’m sure you will,” Dan agreed, making her smile. “I’m just glad I don’t have to fight her.”
“I’m sure with a power as versatile as yours you’ll eventually find some way to best almost anyone.”
He didn’t reply for a long moment, wondering how much he should divulge to ‘the competition’. Then he realized that Brain Child probably wanted to keep them distrusting each other. Therefore, maybe an ally was exactly what he needed. “You want to hear a secret?”
“My power… it’s not exactly that I come back with a new skill set each time. It’s more. Much, much more.” The elevator dinged and the doors opened up on the main floor. He gave a nervous look around. “Look… you wanna go into town and get lunch? I can explain it there.”
She beamed at him. “That sounds like fun.”
To Be Continued…