by Dan Swanson, based on a concept by Tynnechris
Miqui and Tommy Tamare thought they were being very careful about spending their money, but they really didn’t know their own society very well. Being in the Legion had insulated them from reality. Producer kids just didn’t have the kind of money they were flashing, and entitled kids didn’t need money. To the people on the street who were paying attention, they must look like the kids of some big-shot entertainment celebrities who were too stupid to realize there was a reason their folks always surrounded them with protection. So they’d slipped away on a shopping adventure — and now they were nothing but easy money. By the time they’d come out of the third store, they had attracted a posse — virtually invisible, but dangerous nonetheless.
“Uh… Mique?” Tommy said, sounding unsure of himself. “Do you know we’re being followed?”
She hadn’t. Even with all her Legion training, even though they were on a spy mission, and she thought she’d been at peak alertness. “Are you sure? Hold on.” They walked on for another few minutes, but she still didn’t notice anything. “I can’t tell, Tommy. Your powers?” Sometimes, for no reason anyone could figure out, Tommy could sense human minds; other times not. Was this one of those times?
“I think so. Maybe I’m just imagining things. But that kid in the white top with the blue do-rag? I think he’s after you. And there’s more around who want our money.”
“That’s gotta be coming from your powers. No way you could know it otherwise,” she responded. She was watching the blue do-rag reflected in a window. “I still can’t tell. Let’s go this way.” She turned down a narrow side-street.
“Miqui, I don’t want to complain, but if they think we’re running, they’ll jump us.” Tommy was nervous.
“Best way to find out who they are, eh?” she grinned at him. “C’mon, Tommy — we are Justice Legionnaires!” She turned down a narrower street and then started to run, ducking into an alley about halfway down the block. “Right on time!” She stopped as two groups of people appeared at either end of the alley. “You take the ones ahead; I’ve got the ones behind us.”
“Miqui, what if they have guns?” Tommy could protect himself from bullets and energy weapons, but he wasn’t sure he could protect them both.
Chemique concentrated for a second, spun in a circle, and ended with her back to him. “Their guns won’t be working so well now, except as clubs.”
She saw some thrown stones bounce off an invisible barrier around them and realized Tommy was already on the job. And then they were in a fight.
Someone unfamiliar with Chemique might think that her powers wouldn’t be of much use in a fight, and that someone would be wrong. In fact, her powers were among the most dangerous in the Legion, even though her teachers agreed that they were still developing. She could easily bring all the chemical processes in her four attackers’ bodies to a complete halt. Her biggest problem in a fight was figuring out how to win without killing her opponents accidentally.
The pavement in the alley was a little damp, which was good — water always helped chemical reactions along. The damp pavement at the mouth of the alley suddenly became very sticky. A couple of their attackers stumbled and fell, and then their hands, arms, and knees were stuck, too — and instead of four, she was suddenly only facing two. She concentrated and sped up all the reactions in her own body, and suddenly those two appeared to be trying to walk through water. A gentle slap to the cheek for each of those two — a slap she had practiced for many subjective hours against a force gauge in the Legion gym before she ever tried it on live opponents — and they spun around and fell to the ground. She turned to help Tommy, but he didn’t need her help.
Teleteen didn’t look like a fighter. He was tall and skinny, looked weak, and he was still learning how to be tall without being clumsy, as he had grown over a foot in the last four years. But Legion training helped him overcome his apparent deficiencies. His telekinetic field protected him from fists, clubs, and knives, and gave extra oomph to his punches, kicks, and throws. Instead of dodging a knife attack, he waited as the lead thug thrust at his stomach with it. He twisted just a little, and the blow was deflected past him to his left. He snapped his elbow down on the elbow of his opponent and then turned to look for the next threat.
The second thug swung wildly at his head and screamed in pain when he hit a brick wall inches from Tommy’s chin. Teleteen grabbed his arm with both hands and threw him over his right shoulder, telekinetically boosting him so he would fly over top of Chemique’s battle. Tommy didn’t see him land in a pile of trash bags, which split open, burying him in garbage, where he lay, moaning.
The other two were smart enough to turn and run. But they had been stupid enough to attack total strangers, and stupidity should always be rewarded. Tommy reached out and telekinetically grabbed their ankles, then guided their falls so they wouldn’t break their necks when they smashed into the alley walls at top speed. He turned to see if Miqui needed help, but it was all over.
One of the thugs who had fallen into Miqui’s glue trap was still on his hands and knees. As they walked out of the alley through the glue that didn’t affect them, she put her foot in the middle of the boy’s back and pushed him down flat. “Like, don’t worry, baby!” she told him in her best valley girl voice. “It stops sticking in an hour or so.”
“You know,” Tommy said to her as they casually walked away, wonder in his voice, “it’s hard to believe that only three years ago, every kid on Titan beat me up regularly. There were eight of them — and they never had a chance!”
“That’s why they picked us to join the Legion,” she answered proudly. “Tell you what — some of the other watchers are still there. I think we’ve got enough gear for Rand to work with; let’s go back before we have to clobber more fools.”
A small clone of Gernsback was running on the computer in Rex Tyler’s chair, and it remained in close subspace communication with the fully featured original back on the Knight Base supercomputer. Breaking into a network via radio, as they were attempting to do, was touchy business — but perhaps safer than via a workstation, if they were careful. At least, if they did trigger any alarms, it would be hard for Security to locate them.
Rex knew a lot about Amgov computers, and he was looking for something specific. In his early years at the Legion Academy, even before he was trapped in this chair, he thought bitterly, he had discovered a major flaw in computer security. When he had tried to point it out, he had been stunned when his instructors refused to acknowledge this flaw, and after he was repeatedly punished for bringing it up, he finally gave up. But when the time had come to build his own computer system, Gernsback, he had started entirely from scratch rather than rely on existing technology.
He was convinced that this was the reason Gernsback had real artificial intelligence while the much more complex and powerful computers in the Amgov networks did not; every computer advancement in the past two centuries, at least, had encompassed the existing technology, including its flaws. But those flaws were still there — and it was the almost three centuries of covered-up and papered-over flaws that kept Amgov’s computers stupid.
Over two-hundred years of hacks. He tried to think of a good analogy to explain to his teammates. Hmm… Suppose you are writing a program that allows your computer to exchange information with another computer. While testing, you find that maybe one time in ten the signal gets lost. You can spend hours trying to figure out what is causing the problem, or you can add a hack to your own program. If you get no answer, try again; repeat until you do get an answer. This is a hack because it covers up rather than solves the problem. The user never notices that every tenth message is getting dropped, because the program hides the problem. And the problem never gets fixed — why bother?
Now think of almost three-hundred years of this kind of hacks built into Amgov computers. On the surface everything works fine. But every flaw that ever existed still lurks. It’s actually a wonder they still work at all! And by now, nobody has any idea of what goes on under the upper layers of hacks — except me and Gernsy! Yeah, that would do it. Even Greenfire would understand that.
His research today confirmed his hopes — Amgov still used those computers. And the most modern, super-powerful Amgov security programs protected nothing but the top few layers of hacks. With Gernsback’s help he’d go right to the bottom where, more than three-hundred years after the widespread use of computers began, Amgov still made use of the Unix operating system. Shutdown -p1 -a. Shutdown, priority 1, all processes… This was going to be fun.
It was time to go back to their hideout and add his pieces to Chemique’s puzzle.
Rand Tyler stopped dead at the sight of Coquette, the rest of his mission temporarily forgotten. He’d forgotten just how beautiful she could be — and he’d deliberately suppressed the memories of how much pain she had caused him — and the pleasures, for that matter. What hurt worst was the knowledge that everyone around him had seen what she was doing and tried to warn him, and he’d ignored them all. In fact, he’d felt betrayed by them all and let them know it. How could he have been so stupid?
Coquette was sitting at a desk, monitoring the various security cameras situated throughout the vast underground complex. She looked so normal, just sitting there doing her job. He thought about some nasty pranks he could pull on her — he was carrying a number of the small devices he called flash bombs, and he could easily leave one here. But they wouldn’t go off in their present phantom forms, and they would remain phantom for at about another half an hour. She might not even be this room by then. Besides, she knew his M.O. If something unexplained popped into the room, seemingly out of nowhere, she would know he was around — and for now, this was still a secret mission.
But the Legion would invade this place tomorrow, and by then he should be able to think of something good. Maybe he’d get Rex to help — Rex hated her even more than he did.
He scouted around until his hour was almost up, then flashed back to the surface. He was already making some secret plans of his own for tomorrow’s adventure.
Miqui and Tommy Tamare were sitting together in an empty monorail car on their way back to their hideout. The monorail system was poorly maintained, as was virtually all Amgov infrastructure, and they had to lean close to hear each other to talk. Suddenly, without warning, there must have been a bump in the ride or something, because they were kissing.
This was the first real kiss for either youngster, other than relatives and stuff like that. Tommy was way too shy to have ever tried kissing a girl before, and Miqui was sure everyone around her thought she was a robot, not a person. So they were both stunned. And neither really knew how to kiss. But they liked it, so it continued for a while. Then Tommy pulled back, stunned.
“I’m sorry, Miqui!” he tried to apologize.
“Gee, Tommy, that was nice,” she said, totally ignoring him. Putting her hand behind his head, she pulled his head forward for another kiss. When she let him up for air, she said, “Definitely nice!” They both looked at each other, startled.
“So, Tommy, does this mean you like me?” she teased him. He didn’t quite know how to respond to teasing.
“Uh… um, y-y-yes, I do,” he stuttered. “Don’t be mad at me,” he pleaded.
“Don’t be silly! If I was going to be mad at you, would I have kissed you again? Like this!” And she kissed him again. He realized she liked it, too, and kissed her back, this time trying to do a better job. Some fifteen or twenty seconds later, they broke again.
“Why is that such a bad violation of Legion rules?” he asked breathlessly. “We’d have been kicked out for sure if one of the older kids caught us!”
Miqui giggled. She knew that violations of this particular rule were often overlooked; Rand and Coquette were one infamous example. A random thought popped into her head, seemingly unrelated to the occasion. Hmm, I wonder what Coquette’s real name was? She was the only cadet at the Academy who only used her heroic name. And then she turned her attention back to her teammate.
“I guess it would be pretty easy to get so involved in kissing that you messed up your mission,” she observed. “It would be easy for me, anyway.”
Tommy’s heart jumped. She really did enjoy it, too. He’d always been afraid of girls, afraid that they were always secretly laughing at him. But Miqui wasn’t laughing at him. “Yeah, me, too!” Then he was scared. “Does that mean we won’t do it again? You are the mission leader.”
To reassure him, she leaned in and kissed him again. “I don’t think so! Unless you don’t want to.” He shook his head rapidly. She laughed. “Good. We aren’t going to have much free time for the rest of this mission. We’re almost to our stop now. But we should have some time when we get back to Knight Base!”
The train slid to a halt at their station.
“You know, Rex, nobody has ever seen Coquette sleeping,” Randall said after his return; he had explained it all to his brother. “I asked her about it once, and she was really evasive. I’ll bet she reverts back to her real form when she’s asleep — and she doesn’t want anyone to see it. I’m really looking forward to this!” He thought for a moment. “I wonder — do you think it would be possible to somehow trap her in her original form? Making her ugly, and letting people see how ugly she really is? Might be good payback. She would absolutely hate that!”
“I probably couldn’t take her powers away completely, but I bet I can come up with some kind of drug that keeps her from changing forms for a couple of weeks,” Rex answered; he was already distracted by his investigation. He gave some instructions to Gernsback and was quiet for a while.
Meanwhile, Rand used the components from the personal electronics that Miqui and Tommy had bought to build more flash bombs. Actually, these were more specialized and yet simpler than his normal flash bombs — these would each contain two ping pong balls, each filled with a specific chemical liquid, and his ignition system would simply rupture the balls, allowing the two fluids to combine. In the Hot Rod’s other workroom, Chemique was using her power to control reactions to produce those special liquids, and Tommy was filling and resealing the balls.
“Holy spit!” Rex yelled as Gernsback displayed something really interesting on his chair’s computer screen. “You need to see this!” he told his brother.
Rand looked at the screen. There was a chemical formula displayed and some other information. “You can’t be serious!” he yelled. “Where did that come from?”
“A long time ago, I built a cell-collector into the chair,” Rex told his brother. “I thought that someday I would need a good source of genetic material when I started doing research into curing myself. I’ve got a collection of genetic material from almost everyone who has ever touched my chair.”
“Ghosts of time, Rex! Don’t you understand what an incredible invasion of privacy that is?” Rand was suddenly yelling at his brother. “Amgov scientists used your own genetic code to come up with a drug to paralyze you. How could you ever think it was OK to collecting genetic material from anyone else?”
Rex was totally stunned. He had just discovered a stunning fact about Coquette, and Rand was screaming at him about invasion of privacy?
“I didn’t know about Amgov poisoning me when I set this up.” Rex was on the defensive, but he was just as adamant as his brother. “Besides, there’s really no way to keep your genetic information private — every time you touch anything you leave some dead cells behind.”
Rand was still very peeved. “You’re freepin’ rationalizing. No matter how easy it is to collect dead cells, nobody with good intentions would do it — especially secretly. You didn’t even tell us!” He stood tall in front of his older brother. It took a lot of courage for him to say what he did next, younger brother to older brother.
“You are going to destroy your collection now, while I watch — or I’m gonna take that chair apart and do it myself!”
His older brother was about to continue the argument, but Rand wouldn’t let him. “Damn it, Rex, that’s the kind of thing General Urbane would do. That’s the kind of thing that we escaped from. Don’t you see that?”
Rex was silent for several seconds, then he spoke several commands, and a compartment in the side of his chair opened. Several long glass strips slid out. “Put these in the disposal, brother. Thanks for straightening me out.”