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Summer(s)time (IC)

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5-31-11, 11:43 am

Summertime. Sweet summertime!

Darwin Marston's flight landed at 9:40 am at Jordan International Airport. His travel itinerary was clearly stated to Mr. Summers. Phone notification to Mr. Summers would be required upon landing. Darwin's uncle, Manfield Marston, seemed particularly insistent on this point. Which considering the current time now sounded like a wise precaution.

Oh, Darwin did phone from the airport. His flight was forty minutes late, but he would be on his way shortly! Now nearly fifteen after 11, and fifteen minutes late for his appointment with Mr. Summers, neither hide nor hair had been seen of the boy since leaving the airport. The taxi ride should have been relatively short. Where could he be?

As Mr. Summers reached for his phone, or perhaps stood to step out of his office, the door flew open and in walked Darwin. He wore his swim trunks and smelled of saltwater. Over one shoulder sat a big, green parrot. On the other he carried a pink surfboard with a shark bite out of the tip. All topped off with a big, stupid grin.

"Wow, Mr. Summers! Weather isn't great but the surf is gnarly! I've been here two hours, and I've already caught some waves, wrestled a shark and got a kiss from a pretty girl as a reward! I love America!" he said in rapid fire, before stopping and looking at, he guessed, a visibly unhappy headmaster. Clearing his throat, the smile only dimmed slightly, and he added more seriously, "Anyway, sorry I'm late, Mr. Summers. If its any consolation, is that black car yours? Yeah, I bribed the pigeons to stay away from it a few days."

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Summers' face looked neither happy or unhappy. With all his wrinkles and his impassive look, he reminded Marston a little of the cigar store Indians he'd seen in old American Westerns. When he spoke, he sounded a bit like one of those Indians might have, his voice dry and gravelly and with a definite air of command that cut through Darwin's chatter like a crocodile's bite. "Mr. Marston. Take a moment to dress yourself and put away your equipment. You will find a storage locker large enough to hold your board in the gymnasium, and spare clothes as well there if you have misplaced your own." He folded his hands, and added with the same serious air, "I would expect an alva to know a Hayden board should not be carried around a high-traffic campus like this one."

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This Summers character was a wily one! The look of shock, shock I say, and amazement swept across his face. His parrot dipped her head in shame! Obviously this headmaster knew his stuff. Maybe, just maybe, this school could work out after all! His smile disappeared for a moment, only to reappear a moment later as a huge grin!

"Well baste me in butter and call me an Anzac! Yes, sir, Big Chief! Right on it," replied Darwin with very honest enthusiasm, "Be back in ten minutes!"

Sweeping the board around, he managed not to destroy anything in the office, although the parrot went flying. She screeched, "Ack! Friendly fire. Friendly fire!" and flew out the door.

Darwin disappeared with her but momentarily poked his head back in, "You're awesome, Mr. Summers." Despite the pointed dressing down, and probably many to come, the boy sounded like he really meant what he said. Maybe because he reminded Animus of his favorite movies?

Anyone out-and-about after 11:45 saw a kid in swim trunks running for the gym carrying a surfboard overhead. A green parrot flew ahead of him carrying what looked like a student handbook. He reappeared five minutes later, picked up a pile of luggage near the main gate, and a few minutes after that he reappeared, parrot on shoulder, heading for Mr. Summers' office.

This time he knocked, waited for permission, and sat down. He still had the parrot. On the plus side, his hair was combed back, and he wore a polo shirt and slacks. He had, in fact, arrived in nine minutes, handbook in hand. His eyes still looked mischievous, but he sat quietly, if fidgeting.

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"Mr. Marston, come in," said Summers with a faint smile; or perhaps his wooden face was simply in different shadows when the young man returned. It was hard to tell; it didn't look like Summers had moved from the spot. In his office, he was something like an old wounded hawk, watching the younger birds with sharp eyes. "Have a seat. I'm glad to see your parrot doing so well," he commented with a nod the green bird's way, "I know how difficult long flights can be for companion animals." He hmmed. "And young men in the prime of life." As Darwin had recovered well enough from his trip, Summers opted not to ask about the flight. "Tell me: why are you here, Mr. Marston?"

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Darwin's eyes mimicked the parrot's, darting around the room and taking in everything. His nostrils flared as he took in the scents of the place, even if his natural ability wasn't superhuman yet. If Mr. Summers glanced out the window, he noticed the slight sway to Darwin's upper body matched the breeze in the bushes outside. The parrot joined him in synchronized observation until Mr. Summers spoke again.

Darwin smiled and sat down, "Thanks. Yeah, she couldn't wait to get out of that crate. Couldn't you, sweetheart?" The parrot nuzzled the side of his face, and Darwin offered her a small loop of chain strung with blocks of wood. The parrot happily gnawed on the toy. "Mr. Summers, may I introduce Pollyanna, the Pounder of Perth. Miss Pollyanna, Mr. Duncan Summers, our new headmaster. Show him the goods, Polly!" To wit the bird stopped chewing, balled up a foot and held it aloft like a boxer.

Turning to Mr. Summers, Darwin chuckled, "I was getting as mad as a snake in that flying coffin. Honestly, if not for Polly, I'd albatross my way around."

Darwin turned fully to Mr. Summers once he got down to business. The teenager shrugged carelessly, "The truth? My parents wanted another place to dump me off, and Uncle Manny wants me to graduate. Until I turn 18 I go where the people holding my leash tell me to go," he said neutrally, as if this situation was a simple fact of life. He stroked the bird's head gently.

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"Yes, I've spoken to your parents by telephone," replied Summers, and it was tough to read in his voice how he felt about that conversation. "I understand your concerns. Despite rumors that some of our upperclassmen may spread to you, Claremont is not a prison: ideally, all of our students because they want to be. As you can imagine, slots at our school are difficult to come by, particularly for international students. Would you prefer to be somewhere else?"

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For the first time since he arrived, Darwin's mood darkened. Everything else simply acted as a speed bump: something to accept and solve, overcome. Mr. Summer's question hit a sensitive spot. Even his sway stopped. The young man looked around the room evasively. Polly sensed his mood swing and cuddled up against him.

Darwin shrugged weakly after a moment of silence and replied flatly, "The surf but that's not gonna fu...err... happen is it eh?" He patted Polly and looked out the window while continuing, "You seem like a stand-up bloke, Mr. Summers. Mind if I ask you a question please?"

If affirmative, he asked, "Why did you admit me?"

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"You were admitted because you have the potential to be a superhero," replied Summers, studying Darwin intently. "And because, having known my share of Australian heroes, I am aware that a casual demeanor is no bar to competence and heroism." He'd not spoken until asked the question, simply weighing both what the young man had to say and how he went about saying it. "You've told me that you'd like to be back on your beach. If that is where you choose to spend your life, attending Claremont will not stand in your way. You will find that an education is no bar to enjoying a life at sea." He steepled his fingers. "But do you believe you deserve to be more?"

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After sitting a full, well, minute at least, Darwin couldn't contain himself and had to move around. Probably the increasingly personal and uncomfortable questions factored into the equation as well. He paced around in front of the desk a few times before leaning against the window sill. The parrot landed on a corner of Summers' desk and quietly gnawed her toy.

"Feels like I'm yapping to that shrink at my last school. Yabbered on-and-on about 'responsibility' and 'super heroism', like I didn't have a choice," he replied with a snort. "Bloody hell, when did this drama start?" His mood suddenly shifted as quickly as his new, lighter tone.

He grinned, "Right on, bugger the head shrinking. Sell me on it. Please."

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"Mr. Marston." Summers looked reflective for a moment. "I'm not going to 'sell' you on anything. If you think you lack the initiative to be a superhero, no one at this school will force you to be otherwise. You will have a chance to complete your education and have your command of your abilities refined here, and after that, you can go wherever you wish." He eyed Darwin, and seemed to gaze into his very soul. "Contrary to what you may have been told, there is nothing immoral about spending your life with a surfboard on a beach. I have known many people who might have been better off had they chosen that path. Let me put it to you this way. Amateur surfers can spend their days riding small waves at the edge of the beach, enjoying themselves and impressing the people watching them who don't know any better, but when they see the big waves coming, there's nothing they can do. All they can do is watch as their betters ride the biggest, tallest, fastest waves in the world. Is that the man you want to be? Do you want to spend your life in the shallows, Darwin?"

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"Eh, Mr. Summers, depends on how you define 'superhero' now doesn't it? He flipped around his chair and straddled the seat, chair arms or not. "Okay, I have another reason I'm here. The bronzes told Uncle Manny they picked me up after I saved a boatload of divers from a humanoid shark wearing an armored suit. The surfing analogies aren't exactly Mickey Mouse."

"My prob is whether attending your college is worth two more years of hell," Darwin replied nonchalantly. "Don't get me wrong, your place looks ace, and I appreciate the meet, but what exactly am I learning here I couldn't out in the bush. Does supin' require a HSC now?"

The strange, or funny, part of this whole exchange traced to Darwin's openness with Mr. Summers. Having raised a daughter, and taught many, many students, Duncan Summers no doubt knew teenage psychology quite well. Thus developed the distinct impression that Darwin somehow trusted this near stranger more than the typical adult, or person in general. Almost like a father figure, as strange as it may sound.

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Summers raised an eyebrow; though it was hard to tell what had prompted the gesture. "Mr. Marston. Despite your efforts to argue otherwise, you are not a child. Your life-saving record proves that much. I will not insult your intelligence by lecturing you on the value of an education, proper hygiene, or anything else you may expect to hear about in high school. Let me instead ask you in return: are you worth the thousands of hours of physical, emotional, and intellectual labor that will end in your graduation from this institution?" He gave Darwin that look again. "I believe you are, and I encourage you to believe that about yourself." The room fell dead silent, Summers not in any hurry to give Darwin cues for the conversation.

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Darwin shrugged and held his hands out palm up. His face shifted into a Cheshire Cat grin, almost comically wide. "Believe me, I know I'm worth the trouble. I appreciate the confidence." With a whoosh, he balanced on the chair's arms, leaped for the ceiling and clung there like a spider. Polly rotated her head upside down and watched him intently.

"In a faraway land once lived a little boy. The little boy loved to climb trees and hear tales of adventure. His parents wanted a more studious boy. Many masters failed to train the boy. Many masters were cruel to the boy. He ran away and frolicked in the waters. Always a new master arrived. Then one day his brave uncle said, 'Study with this one. He is wise. I knew him in my youth'. The young man loved his uncle and visited the new master. The man was kind to him, and the young man asked to study with him."

He then flipped the chair around and sat down like nothing happened. "Silly, I know. I felt inspired! Okay, brass tacks. I want to join up. May I be a student at your college please, Mr. Summers?" The latter sentence of which he spoke with polite seriousness.

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"Contrary to what the senior students may tell you this year, Mr. Marston, I am not an ogre who seeks to crush the spirits of his students and reshape them into my 'old and busted idea' of a superhero." His mouth twisted slightly, and it sounded like Summers was making a direct quote. Looking satisfied, Summers rose to his feet and shook Marston's hand. "Welcome to the school, Darwin. You will find that gaining personal discipline is not the same thing as losing personality." He smiled thinly, then, showing an old man's yellowed teeth.

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Darwin stood and shook Mr. Summer's hand with enthusiasm. "Thank you, Mr. Summers. Here's hoping for the best! She'll be apples I'm thinking."

Cocking his head to the side, Darwin raised an eyebrow and said, "Eh, 'old and busted idea' sounds like an 'old and busted' phrase to me. Speaking of super heroes, I gotta ask the obvious question. How did you end up running a school for kids with superpowers? Can you read minds and make heads explode?" The tone of voice suggested levity, but the young man looked curious nonetheless.

Beyond the Question That Must Be Asked, he asked, "What's the next move?"

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"Now you get a campus tour from one of our senior students," said Summers, resuming his seat. "I'm sure you will find Quo-Dis a more...entertaining companion than myself." At Darwin's question about his powers, or lack thereof, Summers simply raised an eyebrow. "Mr. Marston," he said seriously. "At this school, we respect the confidentiality of secret identities. Information like that is better offered than asked for...Suffice it to say, however, if you show up a second time in my office wearing your swim trunks, you will discover whether or not I can indeed set students on fire simply by looking at them. Don't be afraid to speak to your RA, your teachers, or myself if you have any further questions."

Outside, sure enough a statuesque blonde was there waiting for Darwin, clad in the blue and yellow colors of Claremont. She looked muscular and athletic, and her trim jogging outfit showed that off to perfection. "Hello, Darwin Marston!" she said with a tremendous handshake and a faint accent he couldn't place. "I am Quo-Dis. Welcome to Claremont."

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Darwin grinned again and winked to Mr. Summers, "Checkmate. Thanks for the pep talk, Mr. Summers. You're all kinds of awesome." Polly landed on his shoulder, and with a wave, Darwin turned to the door. Before leaving though, he glanced over his shoulder, "Eh, hey, Mr. Summers, I do have a quick question. Do you mind if, uh, we just chatted once in a while please? You must be busy so I understand."

The question addressed, Darwin stepped out and did a double take. If not for Pollyanna, ever Ms. Manners, squawking to get his attention, he'd probably had stood there blank faced. Gathering his composure, his smile never wavering, he returned the hearty handshake. "G'day, Quo-Dis! Thanks! Pleasure to meet you. You're one of the senior students? Righteous."

"Where do we start? I'll try to be a learning grommet," he asked politely. Polly received a bit of fruit and the forgotten toy was pocketed.

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"Oh, I think we will start with the gymnasium." Quo-Dis winked at him. "I have heard that you are very athletic, and we have a lot of good equipment for that." She led the way outside, looking like the offspring of a bikini model's marriage to an Olympic weightlifter and talking amiably about the school. "What is Australia like?" she asked him as they headed into what did indeed look like a very well-equipped gym. Darwin had just gotten a glimpse of the place on his first walkthrough: while it was very high-end, it wasn't clear how you'd do powers-training in here. "I have been many places on Earth, but I have never gone south of the Equator."

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  • 2 weeks later...

Darwin smiled toothily and followed Quo-Dis. Tried his best to focus on the tour and avoid, um, distractions. He took in the gym, looking suitably impressed, but indeed wondering how one would practice with powers. He'd heard about other facilities from his uncle. Probably guarded...

He snapped back to reality when Quo-Dis questioned him. His face took on a maniacal quality, "You don't know what you're missing! Lots of people think Oz is just dusty land and kangaroos. Can't say that's far from the truth if ya hit the Outback. But the rest of Aussieland is glorious! Lush rainforests, beautiful rivers, and I swear on it, some of the friendly locals you'll ever meet. Once ya get past the pranks."

"I can't say speak too highly 'bout the place," he reasoned, following his guide and observing the gym's equipment. "Remember your sunscreen and forget your parka. Most Aussies live near the cities, so you have all sorts of entertainments there, and if you like outdoor adventure, then you can travel for days without seeing a soul Depending on where you go. We've not a bunch of Dundees, let me tell ya! Since it's my hometown, I gotta promote Darwin. Sun, surf, sea, all the best in one city." Sounded as if the young man not only loved his homeland but already felt a little homesick.

He didn't really show it though. He just kept on smiling and genuinely enjoying the tour. Finally he took a breath and asked, "So, uh, where's the VR trainer? Unc told me you had a combat simulator. Not that the rest isn't really choice. You've got an awesome school here!"

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"It's very cold where I'm from," said Quo-Dis, "and there is not much there, so we very rarely go outside. I am from elsewhere," she explained. Quo-Dis verified that Darwin had been through talking to Mr. Summers, evidently taking security seriously, then led the way to a hidden elevator in a side corridor of the gymnasium. Once there, a swipe of her student ID got them both inside a gleaming silver elevator that opened right from an interior wall of the building. She bounced happily on the balls of her feet as they went down a story, then stepped out into a hi-tech facility that looked straight out of a movie or a comic book. "If you are interested in competition," she added, "I would be happy to show you how our training center works. The Doom Room is usually not booked in the summer when there are so few students." Once inside the big underground room, with its sliding metal doors and lined walls like something from Star Trek, she flew up in the air with a little smile. "Now, what would you like?"

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