Sabrina looked out the window of the plane at the blue ocean below. It was the first time she had ever been outside of the five boroughs. She had always considered herself to be fearless in her daily life, but something about traveling hundreds of miles an hour in a metal tube thousands of feet off the ground made her nervous.
Across from her was Jason. He seemed to be watching her in subtle amusement. On the table between them was a deck of playing cards. Harry had chartered the Assembly’s private jet for the occasion, and although Sabrina had no prior experience in an airplane to compare it to, the rest of the group seemed to be in awe of the luxurious atmosphere of the jet. The seats were situated two by two on either side of the cabin, with another pair of seats facing them from across a small plastic table. Sabrina was sitting to the right of Tommy Tune, and across from him and next to Jason was his sister Mandy. The two had been inseparable the entire week.
The four had been playing a game of Gin Rummy for the last three hours, but they had now grown bored of the card game and were content to wait out the rest of the flight in silence. For Sabrina the card game had been as much a distraction as anything, and now that it was over she once again had to sit and dwell on her gravity defying predicament. It had been a long flight from New York to the Society’s island several miles off the coast of New Zeeland. There was a movie playing at the front of the cabin, but she was facing the wrong way to see it. She probably could have moved to another seat, but they were close enough now that she didn’t feel as though it was necessary.
As she clutched firmly onto her armrest, she saw Blaze making his way from the bar/kitchen area back to his seat, his twelfth Shirley Temple in his hand. He had been knocking back the sugary non-alcoholic cocktails since the wheels of the plane left the ground. Sabrina couldn’t understand how he had been able to consume so much soda and grenadine without making himself sick.
It was amazing how close the group of young individuals from all over the United States had been able to grow in just a week. They were quite the cast of characters for certain, and Sabrina had gotten to know every one of them a little bit better. She had begrudgingly taken Jason’s advice to ask Harry if she could stay at the embassy, and he had been more than happy to give her a room. At first she had let accepting the room put a dent her pride as she didn’t like to have to depend on anyone, but she couldn’t deny that it felt amazing to take a hot shower and sleep in a warm bed again. Aside from that, listening to the other members of the group talk about how much they also enjoyed staying at the embassy eased her tension and made her feel less reliant on the Assembly and their newly founded society. She hadn’t come to them for help—Harry had personally sought her out and invited her to join the group. If anything, she was doing more of a favor for him than he was for her. Her damaged pride soon repaired itself, allowed her to focus more energy on absorbing what Harry was trying to teach in the group’s daily meetings.
It also didn’t hurt that the television in the room had cable. She had always loved watching television during her short stints in foster care, but it was a luxury she had not been afforded while living on the streets. Being able to select from a hundred different channels of programming had opened her eyes even further to the world of superheroes. They were everywhere.
The majority of the week spent at the embassy had been dedicated to Harry’s teachings on both the Assembly and the SSE. He had explained to them how and why both had been formed, and how they operated. He also went over a number of debriefing reports from various missions the Assembly had undertaken throughout its fifteen years of existence. Sabrina had found many of the stories—as she considered them—to be quite fascinating, but she could tell that Harry had grown increasingly frustrated at the number of times someone in the group compared one of the debriefings to “the movie,” or “that one episode” of a television series.
For Sabrina, most of the stories were new and fascinating. She knew who the heroes were of course—their faces had been on the cover of hundreds of newspapers, tabloids, advertisements and TV screens—but she had never seen any of the movies or watched any of the shows. She had once read a comic book that she found on the street about the She-Beast, which she’d carried around with her for years. She-Beast was a strong woman who could take down any villain with ease. She depended on no one but herself and because of that Sabrina had easily connected with the hero. But beyond that one comic the world of super people was completely foreign to her. The rest of the group however, was full of mega-fans who seemed to already know everything about the Assembly and all of its members. That sometimes made it rather difficult for Harry to get through his lessons without the rest of the group becoming distracted.
Yesterday however, Sabrina had finally been given her time in the spotlight. All week the various members of the group had been talking trash about their powers, arguing over whose was the best and why. Sabrina had kept quietly to herself while the others debated. Occasionally she would catch one of them glancing at her during their debate, and then quickly turn away when she looked over at them. It was clear that they felt sorry for her—not only because she didn’t have a power but because she was homeless. When the others would talk about home, she would again remain abstinent from the conversation, feeling no desire to talk about a stranger’s couch or the dumpster in the alley on fifth. Meals were provided to them at the embassy but on a couple of occasions the group had gone out for dinner in the city, at which point Sabrina had needed to politely excuse herself because she had no money and refused to let anyone else pay for her meal. Fortunately Harry always stayed in because he hated the attention he garnered when he went out in public, so the pair shared several in-depth conversations over dinner and coffee which made her trust in Harry grow exponentially. He was a very wise, insightful, and intelligent man. She often forgot how old he was because of his physical appearance, but he was used to that by now. She was also the only one he had been able to convince to call him Harry instead of Major Justice, which she knew had helped to endear her to him.
Yesterday had been her day in the sun after Harry told them that they were going to practice using their powers so that they could learn to better control them. They had started the day off by meeting in the embassy’s training room in order to demonstrate what they were capable of. The training room looked like a gymnastics floor—it was the size of a large gymnasium and was filled with mats and ropes and rings, a balance beam, hurdles, and various other objects and obstacles. Just the sight of the room made Sabrina want to let her ninja skills run rampant and climb and jump around on all of the different structures in the room.
One by one each took their turn demonstrating their abilities.
Thomas Tune—now preferring to be called Tommy—grabbed onto one of the metal bars and the entire outside of his body turned to metal. Mandy Tune closed her eyes and suddenly evaporated into thin air. The group watched as the mist drifted to the other side of the room before reintegrating into the physical form of Mandy.
Blaze focused hard and was able to make himself disappear, though he was unable to make himself phase through any solid objects. Fortunately for everyone he was also able to make himself reappear without any trouble.
Laura was next. She altered her mass and threw herself high into the air. She then grabbed onto the top of one of the ropes and again shifted her mass, ripping the rope from the ceiling and landing softly on the ground, moving to avoid the chunk of ceiling that came down with the top of the rope. Harry held his hands out to his sides, clearly confused by why she had felt the need to tear the rope down.
Bryan again showed his power by speaking to everyone telepathically, and Jeremy’s turn was skipped because cutting off a finger to watch it grow back seemed a bit excessive.
Finally it was Sabrina’s turn. Harry smiled as he called on Sabrina to show off her skillset, and the rest of the group watched intently, curious as to why this tiny girl without any powers had been invited to be a part of their company.
Sabrina stepped forward and took a deep breath as she surveyed the room and decided where to start. She eyed the rope before taking off for it at full speed. She leapt up and grabbed the rope with both hands while in the same motion turning herself upside down. She held her body up with her arms and wrapped her legs around the rope above her, then began to climb up the rope backwards. When she was three-quarters of the way up, she stopped and lifted her head to look at the balance beam below. It looked to be about twenty paces from the bottom of the rope to the beam.
She took a breath and flipped over while maintaining her grip on the rope. The momentum of flipping over swung her away from the beam. She pumped her legs to increase the arc of her swing, and as she swung back in the direction of the beam for a second time, she released her grip on the rope and did a double flip with a twist before landing in a crouch on the end of the beam with perfect balance and precision. She could hear the group gasp audibly as she landed, which forced a smile on her face. After a momentary pause, she sprinted to the other end of the beam, dismounting with a double-twisting flip and landing perfectly in-stride.
Coming out of her landing in-stride she was able to continue in one fluid motion toward the uneven parallel bars. She jumped as she approached the short bar, grabbing on and quickly pulling herself up so that her feet were planted firmly on top before leaping up to the higher bar, using her arm strength to carry her momentum so that she finished in a hand stand at the top of the high bar. She then allowed her body to fall, bending at the waist to increase her momentum so that she swung all the way around the bar before releasing into a twisting double flip and again landing in full stride as she took off toward the rings.
In front of the rings was a spring platform. She jumped onto the platform which launched her up into the air. She turned her body upside down and rotated 180 degrees before grabbing onto the rings, holding herself up in a handstand. She swung around and released sending herself flying up into the air. She slowly flipped around as she soared before landing firmly in a crouch on the mat underneath the rings. She then sprinted back over in the direction of where the group was watching in astonishment.
On the mat next to where the group was standing was a sparring dummy which looked like a man’s torso with no arms or legs. She did a flying jump-kick as she approached the dummy, her foot connecting with its fake chest. The dummy rocked back before counterbalancing itself and returning to its upright position. Sabrina then unleashed a fury of swift kicks, chops and punches to the dummy before ending with a flying roundhouse to the head, knocking it clean onto its side with a loud battle cry.
She finished in a combat stance as she watched the dummy crash to the ground, finished. She then took a breath as she straightened herself. She turned to Harry and the group before clasping her fist to her palm and bowing to signify she was finished. The group stood in silence with their jaws on the floor. Slowly, Harry began clapping and everyone else followed suit.
“You really are like a mini Eagle,” Jeremy commented with a smile.
Blaze laughed in his surfer chuckle. “Like a sparrow or something.”
The rest of the group looked over to the Californian, surprised that they actually liked the proposed codename for their non-powered companion. Harry turned back to Sabrina and raised his eyebrows, signaling that even he too approved of the name.
Sabrina did her best not to show her elation in finally being able to impress such an impressive group of individuals and solidify her spot as a part of their team.
Later that day she was again able to put her skills on display, as Harry had yet another training exercise put together for them. One floor down from the gymnasium was a different kind of training course, the design of which reminded Sabrina of a laser tag or paintball course. Much like a movie set, there were wooden walls constructed everywhere in a sort of mock cityscape. There were ramps, stairs, and windows all over the place which offered the trainees the ability to sneak around and try to get the drop on the others. The room was also very dimly lit with lots of shadows, which Sabrina knew would play to her advantage.
Before beginning the exercise, each of the recruits was given a sheet of six round stickers—each person having a different color. The object of the game was to place a sticker on the backs of everyone else in the game without getting any of the other players’ stickers slapped on your own back. The first person to get one of their stickers on the backs of everyone else in the game would be the winner. Players could use their abilities however they chose to give them an advantage.
For the most part, the game was almost too easy for Sabrina. She used her stealthy ninja techniques to climb and hide in the shadows, waiting for the other players to move into a position where she could swoop down, slap an orange sticker on their back and be gone before they even knew she was there. She even got the drop on the invisible Blaze, whose footsteps still made noise as he moved around the course.
The only person she wasn’t able to get was Bryan. He had been reading her mind without her even realizing it, and was therefore able to anticipate her attack. Normally this wouldn’t have mattered as she still would have been able to pin him to the ground and avoid being stickered, but something else strange had happened when she tried to put her sticker on him. As soon as she moved into attack position her body froze up. She couldn’t understand what was happening, but she was unable to move—like her body was confused about what to do. Bryan used this opportunity to put his blue sticker on her shoulder and win the game.
Sabrina had still managed to finish second as everyone else had at least three different colored stickers on them. Bryan was the only one Sabrina hadn’t been able to get, and he was the only one who had gotten her, so she still received a lot of props from the other members of the group—all except for Bryan, who to the annoyance of everyone would not stop gloating. Jeremy and Mandy even told her later that they hadn’t even realized she had gotten them until the game was over.
Jason caught Sabrina smiling as she recalled the events of the day previous. Her face reddened in slight embarrassment as she noticed him watching her. He chuckled and turned to look out the small, oval-shaped window to his left. They had arrived at Insula Lacertus—home to the Superhuman Society of Earth and the world headquarters of the International Assembly of Superheroes.
As she glanced out her own window, the first thing Sabrina saw was what looked like an island resort from a travel brochure, situated among luscious green cliffs that lined a golden sandy beach. There were a number buildings scattered throughout the green cliffs. A few of them were very large in size but most were rather small. The exterior of all of the buildings looked to be made out of a collection of tightly packed sticks or hey of some sort, giving them a very tropical appearance. The base of each building appeared cylindrical, while the roofs were wide and conical. They looked to Sabrina like huts.
“What is that place?” Tommy asked in astonishment.
“That’s the resort,” Harry responded. “It’s reserved for the guests of the Assembly—dignitaries and people like that.”
“That is most triumphant,” Blaze commented in his California surfer tone.
Harry smirked as he continued reading a newspaper he had bought at the airport in New York. “It is also where we will be staying.”
A collective sound of excitement radiated through the cabin as suddenly everyone was pushing and shoving to get a better look at the resort. By the time they got to the window however they had already passed clear over the beach, but it was no matter because the sight that came next was far more impressive.
The island was full of lush green hills and valleys, and among those hills and valleys was a modern, almost futuristic city that impressed even the girl who had spent her entire life living in New York.
It was completely different from the skyscraper packed island of Manhattan. Here there were hundreds of small, dome shaped buildings scattered along a large, hilly plateau near the center of the island. The buildings were all metallic silver in color, and were packed tightly together.
As the plane descended closer to the ground Sabrina could see clusters of domes—she assumed neighborhoods—on the ground below. There were generally a few larger domes scattered among the smaller ones. She could see now that the dome roofs did not reach the ground, but were situated on top of cylindrical bases much like the island huts—only these buildings were made of metal rather than sticks. The smaller domes appeared to range from one to two stories, while the larger ones were sometimes three or four.
Snaking between the collections of buildings were white concrete roads, not quite wide enough for cars. They were instead filled with what appeared to be scooters and golf carts. In the more narrow areas that broke off from the concrete paths were beige colored brick walkways.
As the plane neared the center of the city, the clusters of dome-shaped buildings grew closer and closer together, and the number of larger domes inside of them increased until it all became one giant cluster. In the center of the cluster was a monstrous object that served as the focal point of the entire island. Extending straight up from among the domes was an enormous tower that cast an intimidating shadow over the surrounding city.
The tower was made up of four cylindrical steel columns that shot straight up from the ground. Each column had a thin strip of windows going down the center of it. In the center of the four columns was a diamond shaped array of glass windows that made up the meat of the tower. The columns and glass diamond must have climbed forty-stories. On top of the main structure was a smaller diamond tower without any columns that looked to stand another twenty stories tall. The smaller diamond was situated at the rear of the first in relation to the main entrance. Sticking up from the top of the smaller diamond were two large spires.
“The IAS World Headquarters,” Harry stated when he heard everyone start gawking at the tower. His eyes were still fixated on his paper.
“Wow,” Sabrina said softly, her eyes wide.
“Yeah,” Jason responded with obvious snark. He clearly didn’t care much for tower or the surrounding city.
Up ahead Sabrina could see the airstrip nestled between two rolling hills, but what caught her eye was the large structure off to the left of it. It was designed with four wide, intersecting stone arches—two running east and west and two running north and south—and in the center was a glowing blue orb of some sort. It was absolutely gigantic.
“What is that?” Sabrina asked Jason.
“Fusion reactor,” Jason responded. “It powers the entire island using clean energy. One of the few good ideas that came from all of this.”
Sabrina looked on impressed. “Can it be used in other cities around the world?”
Jason chewed on his tongue as he responded. “We’re looking into it, but there are some serious issues. One is that the technology could be used as a nuclear weapon—so we have to be careful about that—and the other is that it’s just so damn expensive to build something like that.”
“But the Assembly can afford it?” Sabrina inquired.
“Hah,” Jason laughed, “Unfortunately.”
A minute and a half later the plane hit the ground and the group of new recruits had arrived safely on Insula Lacertus. After deplaning and getting their luggage in order, a shuttle van arrived on the tarmac to escort them to IAS HQ. There was one black asphalt road on the entire island and it led through the north end of the city from the airport to the tower, and then continued on through the south end of town all the way to the resort. They would first be making a stop at the HQ building, where the van would then wait to take them to the resort upon completion of their visit.
As they drove through town the picture of the city began to fill in with even more detail. The majority of the smaller domes were homesteads, whereas the larger ones were various businesses. At this point it appeared that a large number of the structures remained vacant.
“Rather ambitious, don’t you think?” Jeremy commented during the drive.
“No kidding,” Jason replied almost grouchily.
In true Harry fashion, Harry tried to use logic to explain the situation. “The Assembly wanted the entire Society to be move-in ready when we began recruiting rather than continually building as we went along.”
“It’s called having too much money,” Jason stated bluntly. “Those movie tickets you bought for Assembled Heroes Five, here’s where your money went.”
“Well I suppose if we’re going to be living here now it was a wise investment,” Laura commented with reason.
Jason turned and gave the red haired woman an evil glare, mostly mad at the fact that the logic in her statement was completely sound.
“Why domes?” Sabrina asked.
“You’ll have to ask Amara,” Jason answered before Harry could. “She’s the one who hired the architect.” He clearly didn’t approve.
Sabrina felt a tinge of excitement at the mention of Amara Odya—a.k.a. She-Beast. Would she really get the chance to meet her favorite childhood hero in person?
“Well I think it’s uh-glee,” Mandy said candidly in her Oklahoma accent. Jason nodded approvingly.
The IAS tower seemed even grander up close as the shuttle pulled around the circle drive to the front entrance. As Sabrina stepped out of the shuttle and joined the rest of the group in craning her neck upward, she felt like one of the tourists that had always gotten on her nerves in Manhattan—always stopping in the middle of the sidewalk to stare at the big buildings and not paying any attention to where they were going. But something about the way the IAS tower was built separated it from the skyscrapers in New York. Perhaps it was because the building looked so new and different, or perhaps it was because it stood among a collection of significantly smaller buildings. Regardless, it was impossible to visit without marveling at its powerful presence on the island.
As they walked through the automated sliding doors and into the tower Sabrina saw that the inside was even more beautiful than the outside. The floors were shiny and white and the ceilings were high. All around them was a collection of shops and cafes, an assortment of plant life surrounding each one. The interior of the building was so well lit that it almost felt like you were outside. Looking around one couldn’t help but feel a surge of happy astonishment. All around people were sitting at tables just outside of the various restaurants, enjoying lunch and beverages. The ground floor of the building was alive with activity.
In the center of the diamond shaped building was an enormous fountain carved out of dark stone. In the center of the fountain was a statue of the original six members of the Assembly striking a valiant pose. Major Justice stood in front as the most prominent, with The Eagle and She-Beast close behind, and the other three a little further behind them.
The group stood and gawked as they approached the monstrous monument, inspecting its every detail and debating from which of their notorious battles the pose was from. As the conversation raged on, Mandy suddenly cried out, “Look up!”
Sabrina and the group lifted their heads as far as they would go in order to look up to the sky. The center area of the diamond was completely open above, and she could see clear up to the glass roof forty stories above. Around the edge of the center of the diamond was a collection of balconies, formed together to shape a smaller diamond—one on each floor—within the larger diamond of the tower.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” She heard Harry asked from behind them.
Sabrina looked down to see Jason with his hands on his hips, chewing on his tongue and glancing around uncomfortably in all directions. It seemed that he too thought the tower was magnificent, but he was too opposed to its existence to ever admit it.
“What if somebody fell?” Blaze questioned. Of course he would think of that.
“There are measures in place to catch anyone who might fall,” Harry explained. “Sensors detect if anyone goes over the railing and instantly deploy safety nets that shoot out from every floor below in a matter of milliseconds, catching the person who fell.”
Sabrina and the rest of the group’s expressions conveyed that they were very impressed.
“Who designed this thing?” Laura asked.
“Roger Bankman,” Harry answered.
“Of course,” Bryan responded.
Harry had taught the group about Roger Bankman during their third meeting. He was the Assembly’s resident billionaire genius who owned his own groundbreaking tech company. In the beginning, Jason had been the Assembly’s resident engineer, but when they met Roger he presented them with so many new gadgets and groundbreaking ideas that they had no choice but to bring him into the fold. Bankman was of equal genius to Jason who was himself a brilliant engineer, but Bankman carried with him an endless supply of funding and advanced tech that allowed him to create far beyond Jason’s limited capabilities.
The Assembly broke the news to Jason by telling him that they wanted his focus to remain solely on the missions and not on engineering. Harry had told Sabrina in private that Jason had known it was a farce, but he tried not to let it damage his pride. He was after all an official member of the Assembly whereas Bankman was nothing more than an honorary member—a tool to provide the Assembly with state of the art technology that would always keep them one step ahead of their enemies. Harry had described Bankman as the “Q” to their Bond.
Still, the fact that Bankman always had so many more resources than him always created a tinge of resentment within Jason. He had grown up in poverty and because of that was never fully able to trust anyone with sacks full of money.
“Whoa,” Sabrina heard Jeremy whisper as he began moving away from the fountain and toward the far left edge of the inner diamond. Everyone quickly followed behind to see what had caught the eye of the young man codenamed Painless.
“No way!” Bryan yelped as he started in a full-out sprint toward the glass case Jeremy had discovered.