NEW VINDICATORS #101: Race for the Prize
Chapter I: Here to There
At the sound of knuckles wrapping on his office door, Doctor James Howell raised his head and removed his reading glasses as carefully as his thick fingers could manage. Though his Neo-Sapien power had left him trapped in the form of a gorilla for several decades now, the man often found himself employing more of his considerable strength than was necessary. He evoked his guests to enter with a deep and velvety voice most would have killed for. When the door opened and Prompt led Torrent into the room, he flashed the two a welcoming smile. “Good morning,” he intoned. “Excited to be starting a new school year?”
He knew it was a sore subject for one of the two teens—months after the Basileus’ defeat, she still begrudged the Department of SPB Affairs and the New Vindicators Academy of America for not letting her skip her senior year and deputize her as a Vindicator. He knew she was bitter, but the younger of the two harbored no such acerbity and the school’s headmaster was hardly about to dispense with pleasantries on the girl’s account.
While Prompt simply folded her arms across her generous chest, Torrent shrugged. Just because he was not overflowing with umbrage did not mean the athletic young man was not apathetic. “More curious than anything,” he said. “Why, on the day before classes kick off, are we told to come here, suited up in these uniforms?” It was the first time Torrent had worn the formfitting uniform the students of the New Vindicators Academy wore. The costume was black save for a white ‘V’ that slashed down from the shoulders and formed over the chest. White, elbow-length gloves and boots that cut off just above the ankles finished the designated attire. “We expecting another attack or something? The way some of the others talk, it sounds like we’re setting a new record: it’s been how many weeks since Deimos popped in here?”
Doctor Howell opened his mouth to offer a retort, only to be cut off by the entrance of two more guests clad in the team colors. Unlike Prompt and Torrent, they were not students of the school but were members of the faculty. “Miss Bedford and Miss Wellor,” Doctor Howell offered cheerily as the pair of blondes entered. “How are you both this fair-?”
“Save it, doc,” Chienne hissed as she leaned against a bookcase stuffed with reference material. “The sooner we get on with this little assignment, the sooner I can get out of this idiotic costume. It may move better than leather and it may be more durable than spandex but really, I’d rather just be in my jeans and a shirt.” She stretched, as if to test the flexibility of the Kevlar bodysuit. “Any particular reason I absolutely have to fly the colors?”
“Thanks to the efforts of the Vindicators over the last few months, the public is starting to view us as heroes, rather than… say, walking, talking nuclear weapons.” Prompt rolled her eyes at such a statement; it was a gesture that did not go unnoticed by the headmaster. The prestige the Vindicators were enjoying was due to their saving Chicago from the Basileus’ invasion and it was Prompt who had stopped the Basileus. “There’s some cachet to the uniform, Miss Bedford. I dare say, it may come in handy out there today.
“I have a small recruitment mission for you,” he offered in an attempt to veer them on course. “However covert our relationship with the Department of SPB Affairs may be, it affords us the full use of their resources. When local law enforcement suspects that they’re dealing with an SPB, they notify the Department of SPB Affairs. When the situation relates to a teenager, we’re notified and given the chance to find resolution to the issue.”
“So you want us to go nab some kids on the fast track to juvie?” Torrent asked. “Fuggin’ nuts, man…”
“Mister Titus, please watch your-”
Torrent threw his hands up in surrender and leaned back, away from the headmaster’s desk. “Dude, I said ‘fuggin’—not an actual word.”
The headmaster shook his head. Already he was regretting his decision to include Torrent in this assignment. While the youth had proven himself months ago on the night of Deimos’ raid, the fifteen-year-old’s juvenile behavior was beginning to grate on the administrator—not that he expected maturity from a sophomore, no matter the roots of the word.
“In any case, these young people are not all criminals. Police in Alaska found a boy living on the streets of Juneau. When they attempted to bring him in, several things combusted and the boy used the chaos to escape. They assume that the boy was a Neo-Sapien—one possessing some sort of flame ability. Maybe they’re right and maybe they’re wrong. Regardless, it’s best to err on the side of caution: it the boy is a Neo-Sapien, he may need our help. If not… nothing is lost.
“I would like to divide you into two groups in order to more quickly cover these cases. Miss Bedford will take Prompt while Miss Wellor will take Torrent.”
“And, uh… which of us is Alaska-bound?”
“Miss Bedford’s group will be handling the assignments on the west coast,” Doctor Howell said as he turned towards Torrent once more. “Aside from Mister Loder, Miss Bedford is the only one capable of piloting our jet… seeing as it has no engines.”
“Right,” a bored Chienne said, “so we’re headed to Juneau and where else?”
“Seattle.” The doctor slid a manila folder towards Chienne. He met her eyes with a warning glance and only removed his oversized paw when she stepped forward to claim it.
As Chienne skimmed the contents of the folder, Prompt fixed the blonde with a curious look that she soon turned on the headmaster. Suspicion flashed in her eyes as she realized that there was something about the case the headmaster was not willing to disclose before the group. “I got it,” Chienne said soberly. If anything, she no longer sounded bored. She handed the file back to the man and gave him a curt nod. “If there’s nothing else? Prompt and I will be heading out.” When the administrator said nothing, the woman turned and made her way out into the hall of the school. Prompt hurried after her and nearly ran into Boson and a young man she had not seen before.
The boy looked to be several years her junior. His dark brown hair was worn in an unkempt mop and his glasses idly slid down his nose. The short boy’s face was as gaunt as his body—his thin frame was pronounced by the skintight uniform he had donned.
He gave Prompt pause but the threat of being left behind by Chienne had her hurry to catch up. “Miss Wellor, Mister Titus, may I introduce you to Solon Carlyle? Mister Carlyle has just transferred here and will be joining you on today’s assignment.”
The short, skinny boy eagerly offered his hand to Torrent in greeting. “Great,” Torrent offered apathetically. “So, what am I s’posed to call you?”
Solon turned to the headmaster with his jaw agape. “Well, if we get to pick our own codenames… I’m partial to ‘the Aurelius’.” The name meant nothing to Torrent or his chaperone. It was Doctor Howell who explained…
“Solon’s family is descended from the same man the current Aurelius and Miss Covington are.”
“I’ve been homeschooled up until now,” Solon said, interrupting the headmaster excitedly. “My dad taught me everything he knows about the mystic arts. When we found out about Doctor White’s… inability to continue…” He couldn’t help but chuckle at the Aurelius’ handicap: well over a year ago, Earth’s Master Mage had lost an arm in the war against Apocatastasis. Though outfitted with a prosthetic, without the ability to weave the intricate hand signs through the air, his career as a sorcerer was at an end.
At the revelation that his daughter had picked up some degree of arcane ability, he had hoped she would pursue such studies and take over for him. When it became clear that she had no desire to follow him down the path he had taken, he had offered her cousin, Adrianna Covington, the chance to learn under him as his apprentice. She too had declined, preferring instead the life of a Vindicator.
Another descendant of the original Aurelius—Joseph Anvil—used his magical mastery as an investigator for the Department of SPB Affairs. In a sense, he was doing everything it was the Aurelius’ job to do: if the reports were to believed, the man had fought Xolotl in Acayucan, Veracruz, uncovered a shtriga as the cause of mass infant deaths in Punta Gorda, Florida and forced Hanako-san to her final resting place… all within the last month. Despite that he was acting as the Aurelius would, he too had declined the job offer, preferring to work as a freeland detective the Department of SPB Affairs kept on retainer.
Solon, however, was eager to assume the Aurelius’ duties in monitoring the mystical world. He had presented himself before the Aurelius only to be found lacking. After learning that the man’s first two choices had been graduates of this school, Solon had petitioned his parents to enroll him, that the experience might make him a better candidate.
While the boy was certainly eager to prove himself, Doctor Howell detected a smidgen of hubris in him. The man knew little about the Aurelii gens but judging from the conversation he had had with Solon’s parents, he took it that the boy came from an affluent home and lacked anything that remotely resembled understanding of how the real world worked.
Suddenly, the headmaster knew why the Aurelius had turned the boy away…
Regardless, one thing could not be denied: with Portal and the Aurelia on the Vindicators’ active duty roster, they could not be expected to shuttle the faculty around the world on a whim.
Then again, as Doctor Howell understood it, Portal had dispatched the Aurelia on a similar mission for the school…
“Amongst Mister Carlyle’s repertoire of arcane talents is the ability to teleport those standing within his vicinity from one place to another simultaneously. His range is limited, true, but he should have no trouble in escorting you both to Michigan and West Virginia.”
“What’s in Michigan and West Virginia?” Torrent asked as Boson moved to quietly excuse herself. She was halted by Doctor Howell, who merely asked her to wait while he finished up with Fossick’s group.
“A boy in Michigan was being beaten up by some of his new classmates. According to the police report, when he moved to fight them back, green flames appeared in his eyes and a spectral hammer formed in his hand.
“As for West Virginia, a foster family threw a young man out of their home after he suddenly disappeared from the dinner table, only to reappear in his bedroom.
“You’ll find Mister Hilton at the Wayne County Justice Center. As for Mister Bellows, your guess is as good as mine. That’s where you’ll come in, Miss Wellor: your ability should allow you to locate the boy and Mister Carlyle can keep up with him through teleportation.”
“And… what am I supposed to do?” Torrent asked. “I mean, it makes sense: Miss Bedford transports while Christmas finds the kids. You’ve got Miss Wellor and the magic man so… why did I bother getting out of bed?
“Mister Carlyle only arrived on campus late last night,” Doctor Howell explained, “whereas you have been living here for several months now. You’ll be able to talk to these young people on their level, communicating with them in a way Miss Wellor cannot.”
“I’m bait, huh?” Torrent considered it for a moment before finally shrugging. “Whatever, I guess. I’m ready to go when you guys are.”
Only when the trio left was Doctor Howell left alone with a former student of this school: though she had never technically graduated, the young woman born Clarissa Townsend had been tested in more ways than one and was awarded her diploma. Now, Clarissa was a full-time Vindicator and a part-time student at Columbia University. At the moment, she was also curious as to why the headmaster had asked her to stay…
“As you know, a few months ago, the Affiliation raided Black Box’s headquarters to liberate our stolen files. I’ve spent some time reacquainting myself with them in the hopes of pinpointing latent Neo-Sapiens, just as Black Box did. I came across the file of a young woman I found quite fascinating…
“Her name was Veronica Cambridge and she was a year ahead of you. Do you remember her?”
Clarissa shrugged. “Vaguely. I mean, I didn’t know her but I knew of her, I guess. Why?”
“Miss Cambridge was a Neo-Sapien capable of imbuing others with protective barriers. She could not generate such a barrier around herself, however, and that led to her death during the Massacre. Her powers appear to be very similar to yours. I’ll admit, it’s not much: Alicia Gladstone and Gale Weathers both possess abilities that grant them dominion over the elements but there is hardly a genome shared between the two women. I very likely would not have noticed, had it not been for her picture.” Doctor Howell leaned forward and offered the young Vindicator a picture of the girl cut down in her junior year of high school. Veronica was blonde with high cheek bones. She was tall and sported a thick frame—broad shoulders and wide hips. “The similarities are fairly striking. I’m honestly surprised that no one ever said anything.”
“Doctor Styles asked me if I had a sister once—said I looked like someone… I told her I was adopted and she left it at that…”
“What if I told you that Miss Cambridge was also adopted?”
“There are several instances of Neo-Sapiens being adopted: Max Fitzpatrick, the young man codenamed Tusk, was adopted. James and Doug Kirk were adopted. In these instances, Black Box failed to incarcerate their adoptive parents. They were only concerned with restraining possible Neo-Sapiens and were actually above abducting those without a genetic tie to a Neo-Sapien. This is why your mother—Doctor Townsend—was never taken. It’s also why Miss Cambridge’s parents were left unmolested.
“According to your record, you were born in New Castle, Wyoming. So was the late Miss Cambridge.”
“Wait… Are you telling me this girl…” Clarissa brandished the picture of Veronica angrily. “She was my sister?”
Doctor Howell could only respond with a shrug. “I don’t know,” he said sadly. “Without testing, it’s impossible to be certain but-”
“But what?” thundered Clarissa. “If there’s a chance that I had a sister, I want to know!”
“I understand. However, I think we should be considering-”
“Was she buried here? Did her adopted parents have her body sent back to… to wherever she grew up?”
“We have to dig her up…”
“Are you familiar with the Gospel of Luke?”
The question was so strange that it successfully silenced her.
“After Jesus’ death, his mother and others went to the tomb to prepare his body, only to find the stone rolled away and two men—widely accepted as angels—lazing about the crypt. The angels look at the women and ask them, ‘Why seek ye the living among the dead?’
“You’re so adamant to find out if you have a dead girl as your sister but haven’t you given any wonder as to whether or not the people who put the both of you up for adoption are still alive? I was adopted. My parents—the Howells—they don’t have a Neo-Sapien power. I’ve often wondered if my mother is permanently trapped in a similar state. Is my father able to freely transition from being a human to being an ape? I know that Mister Reagan has been frequenting Vienna—talking with his aunt Iulia in the hopes that he can find a way to bring his powers under control—but what about you, Clarissa?
“It takes you an exuberant amount of focus in order to maintain anything more complicated than simple geometric shapes. Perhaps if you had a teacher—someone with more control over their Neo-Sapien abilities—you might be very well become one of the strongest members of your team.
“What say you, Miss Townsend? Can I help you find your biological parents?”
To Be Continued... wrote:Enter: The Lumantas.