Title: Peril for Advanced Beginners
Name: Sarah T.
E-mail: harriet_spy@yahoo.com
Recipient: jamjar
Featured character: Tyler Marlocke [PS238]
Summary: Tyler learns from *not* studying with the Revenant, too.

When Tyler came into the student lounge on Sunday evening, most of the class was there, watching cartoons. He dropped his bag and sat down on one of the couches, keeping a careful distance from Suzi, who was so caught up in the program that she was shimmering a little. His parents might be all in favor of him being exposed to as much radiation as possible, but the idea made Tyler's stomach curl up.

"Hey, Tyler," Kevin said. "Did you have fun?"

Fun was not the word Tyler would have used to describe jumping between buildings to learn how to use the jet-thrusters in his boots to increase his momentum. He'd landed on his head so often that he'd scraped the paint off his helmet. But he did like the way the Revenant talked to him not like he felt sorry for him for not having powers, the way most of the teachers there did, or impatient, like his parents, but like it didn't matter. So he just nodded.

"Aren't you scared of the Rev'nant?" Suzi asked. "I heard he was *mean*."

"That CABBAGE-EATING poser?" Zodon sneered. "You're scarier than he is, Suzi. Bernard here could take him with one punch."

"Punch!" Bernard declared gaily, and delivered a mighty blow to Zodon's unit which set him spinning across the room. A burst of showtune lyrics filled the air.

"No, he's nice," Tyler said to Suzi, who was still looking worried. "Well, not nice, but..."

"My parents don't like him," Ron said quietly.

"Neither do mine," Kevin agreed.

"Do you know why?"

Kevin looked at Ron, who shook his head. "Not really."

"Then that's not fair." Tyler tugged at his hair. "Maybe they don't even have a good reason."

"No right-thinking meta likes that MULE." Zodon returned to the group. "He's a pathetic little mundane who thinks he can play with the big boys."

Tyler's face grew hot. He knew it was better and considerably safer for a kid without powers to ignore Zodon. He didn't really want to wake up one morning with his proton spin reversed or something. But sometimes Zodon just went too far. "He's not pathetic! He can do all kinds of stuff!"

"And I'm sure you two are winning the war against purse-snatching in town with his amazing abilities. But when the world falls under my dominion, that BURSAR is going to be first against the wall. He'll be begging for mercy faster than you can say 'vigilante pesto'!'"

"Stop talking about him like that."

"Who's going to make me? You and your grappling hook, Moonshine?"

"Bernard," Tyler said through his teeth. "Punch."

"PUNCH!"

After the Great TV-Breaking Incident, Zodon would never again leave a critical servo exposed to external damage.

*

"This is the second time in two months that Tyler has been given detention," Sovereign's hologram intoned seriously. "A failure in discipline is a failure of teacher as well as student. Perhaps this school is not prepared to deal with a child as remarkable as Tyler after all."

Tyler swallowed and shifted uncomfortably on his seat in Principal Cranston's office. He wouldn't be surprised if Clay Industries had made the student's chair especially hard and unforgiving. His parents seemed more mad at the principal than at him, but he knew that wasn't fair.

Principal Cranston grimaced. "We're very fond of Tyler here, Sovereign, but he doesn't present any challenges we can't handle."

"Indeed?" Ultima's hologram challenged. "Then why was he disciplined this time?"

Cranston said, "Why don't you tell them yourself, Tyler?"

"I, uh. Got one student to shove another one."

"With mental powers?" Ultima asked eagerly.

"No. I just told him to."

"The student in question is...rather suggestible," Cranston interjected.

"Why did you do it, Tyler? Do you feel stifled in this environment? Was the other student's mediocrity too much for your great spirit to bear?"

He could kind of tell that that excuse might get him out of trouble, and it was pretty funny to think of Zodon as "mediocre," but it didn't feel right to lie. "No. I was mad at him because he was insulting Revenant."

"Revenant?" his parents said, loudly and at the same time. "What do you know of Revenant?"

"Nothing," Cranston said quickly. "He's come up in social studies--"

"What are you talking about? You've been sending me to study with him for weeks."

There was a long, awkward silence. Tyler didn't know what was going on, but he guessed from the way his dad's face was slowly working through all the colors of the visible-light spectrum, and probably some in the infrared, that it wasn't a good thing.

"You. Have been sending our child to study with that man?" Ultima finally said.

"Yes," Cranston said.

"Without our consent?"

"Actually, the consent forms you signed more than cover those classes."

"Enough!" Sovereign thundered. Almost literally. "This is intolerable! I would have thought you, of all people, Cranston--"

Cranston actually got to his feet. "I don't hold a grudge," he said, low and angry. Tyler was astonished. He'd never even really heard Cranston get mad at Zodon or von Fogg. "And as I'm the one who ended up with this stylish yet functional headgear, I think I'm the best judge."

Tyler's parents looked at each other for a moment, speechless. Tyler almost wanted to take notes -- that never happened. Ultima recovered first. "But not of what's right for our child. We will not have our son taught as if he were normal by that man. You will terminate his lessons at once, or we will remove our child from this school."

"Terminate?" Tyler said. "You want me to stop?"

"Yes, dear." Ultima didn't take her eyes off Cranston.

"But...but I like him. And I'm learning stuff "

"'Stuff' you will have no need for when your rightful destiny emerges, Tyler. As well as nonsense your ears should never be filled with in the first place. Well, Cranston? What say you?"

Cranston sighed. "Fine. We'll end the lessons. But you're making a mis--"

"The Powers do not make mistakes," Sovereign said curtly. "Now, we must be off. Farewell."

As the holograms faded, Tyler swallowed hard.

Cranston rubbed his fingers against his forehead. "I guess I should've told you not to tell your parents. But we do try to keep the lying to the caregivers to a minimum around here."

"Principal Cranston, I don't want to stop studying with the Revenant."

"I know, Tyler, but your parents don't want you talking to him, so that's going to have to be it for now."

"But why? Why don't they like him?" It just didn't make any sense. Why should his parents mind him when they didn't care that he was constantly getting nearly pulverized by Zodon? And Prospero seemed nice, but for all they knew, he could be an Irken Invader! "And Ron's parents, and Suzi's?"

"I'm sorry, Tyler. It's complicated, and I can't tell you now. Maybe later. I'll call Revenant. He'll understand. Now you'd better be getting back to class."

Tyler didn't know how the Revenant could understand. He'd probably think that Tyler had decided that he didn't like him either. That he belonged with the metas, and not the normal people. He felt sick.

*

Tyler's parents didn't think of pulling him out of any other classes, so as the week went on, he got knocked down in gym class and blown up and reconstituted in science just like usual. The weekend, when Tyler was supposed to go train with Revenant again, came and went. Revenant didn't even call. Tyler didn't blame him. He had to at least be mad that Tyler had told about the lessons, and probably about more.

Of course, Zodon didn't miss any chances to make fun.

"Giving up on your Downward Bound weekends?" he jeered on Sunday afternoon. "Perhaps you've finally accepted that you have no purpose in life. Except to polish my footstool after my inevitable conquest of this pitiful country."

Bernard was right there, but Tyler didn't want to spend the rest of the year in detention, so he just turned and walked away. He needed a nap.

Of course, to make the day perfect, the minute Tyler walked into the students' dormitory, he tripped over a machine in the hallway. "Ow," he muttered, pushing himself back up to his feet and looking back. A silver box with blinking lights and dials almost certainly one of Zodon or von Fogg's. He didn't even want to know, so he just put it right-side-up again or, at least the side he thought was right-side-up and went on to his room.

He dozed off quickly into a uneasy dream of trying to jump between rooftops and nearly falling, every single time, but not being able to stop. He wasn't sure how long he'd been sleeping when there was an enormous thump and the entire room rattled, as if there was an earthquake.

Tyler sat bolt upright, nearly bonking his head into the bunk above. A harsh-smelling smoke filled the air. He covered his mouth and coughed. He wasn't sure whether he should try buzzing the teachers or just run.

As he was getting to his feet, a man in body armor, a heavy pack, and a black helmet burst into the room. "Hands up, kid," he snapped, aiming a gun at Tyler.

Tyler stared. "Who are you?"

"I said, hands up!"

Tyler put his hands in the air, trembling. The man quickly patted him down.

"What kind of a meta are you?"

"I--I don't know yet."

"What do you mean, you don't know?"

"I mean, maybe I'm supposed to, but I haven't gotten any powers yet."

"If you're lying, kid, you're not going to like this," the man said, and took a strange device from his pocket. It was like a ball, with one half blue and the other half red. He twisted the top around, so that each half was both colors, and looked at Tyler. Tyler just looked back.

"What are you doing?"

"Something that the government should've done years ago, if it'd had the guts." He hit the comm-button on the wall. "Cranston? Can you hear me?"

Principal Cranston shimmered into view on the screen. He looked calm, but there was a faint furrow between his brow that Tyler had seen before, usually when he was trying to deal with Zodon, or eat the cafeteria lunch. "Who are you?"

"That's not important. What is important is that I'm in your school, and I have a hostage." The man dragged Tyler forward by the elbow. "See?"

"Are you all right, Tyler?"

"Yes, Principal Cranston," he said, though he wasn't sure it was true. His knees were shaking. This was worse than being stranded on the surface of the moon. At least then nobody had been pointing a gun at him.

"Just stay calm, and everything will be fine." He looked back at the man. "What is it you want? I'm sure we can work out some sort of arrangement..."

In the distance, there was a sound of more explosions, and then someone screaming.

"You're a dirty politician down to your bones, aren't you, Cranston?" the man sneered. He made the name sound like a bad word. "Pretending to negotiate just to buy time to send in the troops. But you won't be able to send in the troops. I've got anti-meta devices all over the place."

"All right." Cranston raised his hands. "I believe you. Just tell me what you want."

"Want? That's easy. I want you."

"Me? Why?"

"My brother was Senator Bell, Cranston. Does that answer your question?"

Principal Cranston's face went absolutely blank. Then he sighed. "Yes, yes, it does."

"Thought so."

"If I hand myself over to you, you'll let the boy go?"

"Yes."

"And what do you plan to do to me afterwards?"

The man glanced at Tyler. "Let's not talk about that in front of the kid."

"How do I know I can trust you?"

"My brother trusted you. I'm a lot more honorable than you are, Cranston." He looked at his watch. "You have half an hour to decide."

"I'll let you know." Cranston flickered out.

*

"Please don't kill me," Tyler said, as the man moved around the room, setting up weird devices from the pack on his back.

"Look, kid, if you get hurt, it'll be because of Cranston, not because of me." He was unfolding some sort of spindly umbrella-thing, and one of the arms swung within an inch of Tyler's head. "Move over there."

That didn't make Tyler feel any better. He couldn't think of a reason to help someone who didn't care if he got hurt, so he just stood there and looked up at him, swallowing.

The man reached out a hand to shove him away, but stopped himself. "How did I end up with a human kid?" he muttered. "What's a normal boy doing at a school for metas, anyway?"

"My parents are metas. They think my powers are going to develop any time now, so they want me learning with other meta kids."

"That's crazy. If you were my kid, you'd be in a normal school, with other kids like you. Not around some freak metas."

Even two months ago, that was what Tyler had wanted more than anything, too, but..."They aren't freaks! They're my friends!" He remembered how Zodon had started all the trouble. "Well, some of them."

"You may think they're your friends, kid, but they're only out for themselves. You can never trust them."

"Why not? What did they do to you?"

The man hesitated, then pulled off his helmet. Tyler was braced for something scary, but he was just a guy, with salt-and-pepper hair and leathery skin. He looked really tough. "Not me. My brother."

"Your brother?" Maybe if the man talked long enough to Tyler, he would get tired. Or distracted. Or change his mind. He didn't look mean.

"Did you ever hear of Senator Bell?"

Tyler thought about lying, but settled for shaking his head.

"I guess he was before your time. He never wanted to do anything but serve his country, just like me. He went into politics, I went into the army."

"What happened?"

"There was a bill to regulate metas. Your principal thought the best way to stop it was--"

The air shimmered between him and the man, starting to warp. Tyler held his breath, hoping the man wouldn't notice, but he immediately broke off and stared at the disturbance. There was a loud pop, something like a stifled cry of pain, and the air smoothed again. "I've got wards against magic, too!" the man yelled. "Don't even try it!"

That meant that he had stopped Spell Siryn. Tyler frowned. He bet that he didn't know everything the teachers could do, but if they couldn't use powers or magic, things didn't look good.

The screen lit up again. "Colonel Bell?"

It was Principal Cranston. And Sovereign and Ultima, or at least their holograms. Tyler relaxed a little. Principal Cranston and his mom and dad-- they must have figured out how to solve the problem. There really wasn't a whole lot his mom and dad couldn't do.

"Giving up?" Bell said. "If teleporting in is the best your people can do, you should save the trouble and surrender now."

"No, I'm not giving up. I wanted you to meet some people. These are Sovereign and Ultima Powers. They're the parents of the little boy you're holding hostage."

"If you hurt our son," Ultima began, "by all the stars in the galaxy, I'll--"

"Please, Ultima," Cranston said hastily. "Look, Colonel Bell. I know you don't want to hurt Tyler. You don't want to take an only child from his parents. Let Tyler go, and we can talk."

"You already destroyed my family," Colonel Bell said harshly. "Why should I care about this one?"

"Why are we even negotiating with this lunatic?" Sovereign burst out.

"Because we can't get in there," Cranston snapped. "I've explained--"

"I could realign--"

"You could rip a hole in the space-time continuum and not get anywhere near Tyler, Mr. Marlocke. Maybe conventional forces-- or unconventional forces--" He cut himself off, glancing at the screen.

"We cannot disgrace ourselves by even considering that option," Ultima said.

"You're boring me," Colonel Bell said. "Get back to me when you've made up your mind, Cranston."

He cut the connection.

Tyler looked up at the clock. There were only about ten minutes left. Nothing so far had scared him as badly as hearing the grownups argue like that. He knew it meant that they didn't know what to do. If only he could do something. Anti-meta devices weren't any good against someone who wasn't a meta. But he couldn't. Zodon was right. What good were people like him, anyway, except to be beaten up by the metas? Or to--

People like him. Unconventional forces.

He hesitated. His parents would be angry. Probably more angry than if he just got himself killed. But he didn't think Colonel Bell was going to stop with him, and it wasn't right that anybody else should get hurt.

"I have to go to the bathroom," he said.

"You can hold it." Colonel Bell was looking at a readout from some kind of palmtop.

"Please, mister? Colonel? I really need to go. The bathroom's right there. I'll even leave the door open if you want. Though that would be really gross."

"Oh, all right." He waved him away. "But close the door."

Tyler did. Once inside, he waited as long as he dared, then flushed and turned on the faucet. He turned his watch over and pressed the button set on the underside.

"Revenant here," the voice came at once. "This had better be an emergency, Tyler. You're not even supposed to be talking to me."

"I know," Tyler whispered. "It is. There's a man in the school with guns and stuff, he--"

The door slammed open. "What are you transmitting?" Colonel Bell snarled, and now he did look mean. He snatched the watch and slapped it hard against the sink. It crumpled. Then he grabbed Tyler's wrist and hauled him into the next room. "All right, come on, you're staying in my sight until time's up."

"I'm sorry," Tyler said, feeling like he was about to cry. "I was just scared."

"Just sit on the bed, and keep your hands where I can see them!"

Tyler obeyed. For a few more minutes, Colonel Bell paced tensely around the room. Nothing happened. Then Tyler heard the slightest chirp from the bathroom. Like a signal from his mangled comm-unit. He could guess what Revenant was trying to tell him, and it made him equal parts hopeful and anxious. He couldn't let everyone down. He thought for a minute, then waved his hand. Colonel Bell immediately turned to cover him with the gun.

"Colonel Bell? What are you going to do when time runs out?"

He frowned. "Don't ask that."

"Are--are you really going to shoot me?"

The gun was awfully big. Tyler wondered if it would hurt worse than being hit by a dodgeball that Bernard threw.

"We'll cross that bridge when we--ooooof!"

Colonel Bell went down hard, Revenant on top of him. Revenant slammed his hand into the back of his neck and he went limp.

"Sometimes low-tech is still the best way," he muttered. Then he looked up. "Tyler. Are you okay?"

*

"It's going to take a couple of days to repair the football field," Cranston said, a half-hour later in his office. Tyler sat in the same chair, but it wasn't so uncomfortable now. His dad was giving him a look that said that if he were really there, he'd be giving him one of those hugs that made his ribs creak and his mom remind his dad, with a sigh, that "the boy isn't invulnerable yet." His mom was smiling a whole half a smile.

"I apologize for the skid marks. Time did seem of the essence," the Revenant said.

"Oh, we've got a student who grows things. We'll put her to work on that, rather than on the more inappropriate project she keeps trying to nurture behind the tool shed.."

"All is well that ends well," Sovereign beamed solemnly. "The evil has been defeated, and if necessary, we might be able to divert some radiation from one of our nuclear sources to encourage the plant regrowth."

Principal Cranston gave a slightly pained smile. "If we find we need it, we'll certainly call on you."

"Which brings up an important question," Ultima said. "Tyler? Do you feel any powers coming on? Any tickle in the brain? Any singing of power in the blood? Any yearning towards a cosmic destiny in your soul?"

He kicked his feet. "Not really."

"Hmmm. There must not have been enough peril."

"It felt like a lot of peril to me, Mom," Tyler said earnestly.

"Well," Sovereign said. "The universe must simply be waiting for a truly transcendent moment. And now the universe awaits us. Good day, Principal--"

"Wait!" Tyler exclaimed. "Mom, Dad! Aren't you even going to say thank you to Revenant?"

"I'm sure Revenant did not do it to secure our gratitude," Ultima said coolly.

"Oh, I don't know about that," Revenant said, folding his arms.

"We--" His dad looked at his mom. "I suppose we--"

"We are grateful that our son survived," Ultima said.

"Yes," Sovereign said quickly. "We can't thank you enough, so we won't waste your time."

"Actually, you can."

There was another awkward silence. Tyler was starting to think that causing that might be his superpower.

"How?" Ultima said.

"Let Tyler study with me again."

Tyler held his breath.

"Out of the question. His destiny forbids it."

"It was his training that helped him call for my help today, when allegedly more adult heads didn't," Revenant pointed out. "If you're going to expose him to the risks and dangers of a meta's life, Mrs. Marlocke, he needs tools to protect himself."

"Well..."

"Please, Mom?" Tyler burst out. "Please?"

"As a temporary protective measure," she said reluctantly. "Only until his powers manifest."

"Fine."

"And now, we must be going." Sovereign cut off Tyler's cheer. "Be great, Tyler."

The holograms disappeared.

"I've never known anyone who could talk at the top of their lungs as long as those two," Revenant said to Cranston.

"You have no idea what parent-teacher night is like around here." Cranston smiled ruefully. "Between them and the von Foggs, it takes half a day for my ears to stop ringing. And now, I'd better get to work on our coverup. We don't want the local parents thinking there were dinosaurs rampaging through campus."

"All right. I'd like a word with Tyler, anyway." Revenant opened the door, and Tyler slid off his chair and scampered out in front of him.

"Revenant," Cranston said softly. "I know that's the second time."

"Hopefully, you won't need me again." Revenant closed the door of the office behind him and started walking with Tyler. "Are you okay, Tyler?"

"It really wasn't any worse than gym," Tyler said.

"I hope you don't mind that I volunteered you for classes again."

"Mind? Of course not!" It was the opposite of minding as long as he didn't think too much about those big spaces between buildings. "I almost wish I could study with you all the time. But...I'd miss my friends."

"And I'd miss things, too. But I'm glad you're ready to start again. I'll see you next weekend, then."

"Revenant," Tyler tugged at his wrist, "what's going to happen to Colonel Bell?"

"I don't know, Tyler. He'll probably go to jail. He did try to hurt people."

"But it kind of sounded like--" he hesitated. Revenant was probably the only one who would tell him. "Principal Cranston hurt him. Or his brother."

Revenant stopped and rubbed his eyes. "Yes. He did."

"Why?"

"It's a long story, Tyler. Principal Cranston was using his powers in the Senate, in a way he shouldn't have. He stopped, eventually, but not before--" He sighed. "Something went wrong. Look, when they get scared, sometimes even very smart people do stupid things. Especially when they don't really understand the people they're scared of."

It was creepy, to imagine what a person with Principal Cranston's powers could do to you, even by mistake. They walked on in silence for a little while. Finally, Tyler said, "I'm scared of lots of things."

"I've noticed. But you're also pretty brave. And that's why it's good that you live here, actually."

Tyler frowned. "Why?"

"Because there aren't many people who are comfortable in both worlds. Who can help them understand each other. Maybe someday you can do something about that."

"What about you? You work with metas all the time."

"I'm not really qualified to lead the sing-a-long," Revenant said dryly. "You may have gathered that they don't like me much."

"Why not? I like you."

"Well, in addition to everything else a lot of them still haven't forgiven me for stopping Principal Cranston in the first place."

"Stopped him?" Tyler stared. "Did you have a fight?" He couldn't even imagine it.

"No," Revenant said. "Just a conversation."

"Oh."

"You don't always have to fight to solve problems, Tyler. Though it certainly does help to have the option." He ruffled Tyler's hair. "I think that's enough for you to take in for one day. See you Friday evening?"

"Okay."

In the distance, there was the sound of another explosion. Tyler flinched, but Revenant merely raised an eyebrow. "And tell Zodon that even fusion engines are vulnerable to tampering by lowly mundanes. If the supply chain isn't secure."

Smoke drifted through the corridor. The sprinklers came on. Through the fog, Tyler saw Suzi come out of the classroom. "C'mon, Tyler! We're being 'vacuated! And it isn't even my fault this time!"

"Yeah, Tyler," Ron chimed in, appearing next to her. "Zodon just went through at least six walls!"

"I'll see you--" Tyler started to say to Revenant, until he realized he was gone. "Later," he said anyway.

He'd think about the whole thing-- what metas could do, what regular people could do, what he could do-- soon. Now, he could go be with his friends. He ran off in the downpour, laughing, following the tootling of Ron's clarinet.