LNH: New Teenfactor # 1
milos_parker at yahoo.com
Tue Jan 23 21:54:10 PST 2007
* NEW *
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# 1: THE LEADERSHIP CRISIS
The building is stocky and box-shaped, a big fat
gray building for a big fat gray afternoon, and in big
fat white letters, it is identified as TOP SECRET
Carolyn sighs, not so much in exasperation as in
disbelief. She checks the address and confirms that,
yes, this big fat ugly old gray building is the one to
which she has been summoned. Er, invited. (But it
feels like a summons.)
The stiff, clipped, utilitarian prose of the letter
she holds in her hand is not particularly friendly nor
inviting, and it certainly doesn't contain anything as
ridiculous as this big fat gray building and its
Something inside Carolyn says, but this is the
Looniverse, and here, silly things happen all the
"Yes," she says out loud, "but only if it's funny.
This," she points to the gray monstrosity for the
benefit of her inner voice, "this is just lame."
What is she doing in Sig.ago? She should be home,
in Washington. Nothing silly ever happens in
Washington. But nothing exciting, either.
Sure, it must be grand for those who get off on
politics and pundits. But scientists, computer geeks,
and mathematicians are not in particularly high demand
there. At least, not in that Washington.
Sig.ago may not be Se.alt.tle, but there is a place
and a demand for science, for math, for computers and,
more importantly, for Carolyn Forge.
And so, she heads towards the TOP SECRET GOVERNMENT
BUILDING. "Certainly beats standing out here in the
rain," she says as bells of water peal across her
bright yellow slicker. She knocks on the door.
A tall man, mid-twenties, military: "May I help
"I'm Carolyn Forge," she says, producing the
"Hmm," he nods, handing it back. "That'll be next
"Yes. This one's just a decoy. Meant to attract
attention, distract people from the real thing next
door." He points with his thumb to a four-story fire
hydrant adjacent the big gray building.
"I didn't notice that before," says Carolyn as the
neon yellow building attacks her retinas.
"See?" grins the military man. "It works." He
pats the big gray decoy affectionately. "I'll tell
them you'll be coming, Miss Forge."
Carolyn thanks him with a nod and heads for the
fire hydrant, dragging her feet through the thin
puddles of rain. "What have I gotten myself into...?"
"Glad you could make it, Miss Forge," says the
amiable man who greets her at the door. "Your
government has need of you. I'm Gerald Ford.
Teenfactor's government liaison."
"Teenfactor?" says Carolyn. "Wait. Gerald Ford?
The Gerald Ford?"
He shrugs modestly.
"The 38th President of the United States Gerald
Ford?" says Carolyn.
"Yes," says Ford. He hands her a WIN button.
"No thanks," says Carolyn.
"Damn," says Ford. "I got a ton of these things."
"This Teenfactor must be important," says Carolyn,
"to require your involvement."
"Miss Forge, I'm Gerald Ford," he says bluntly.
"The only President to serve without having been
elected." [*-- This story takes place in 1997; and
besides, in the Looniverse, George Bush did not become
President in 2000.] Ford graciously allows the
footnote to say its piece before continuing: "I just
needed something to do. It was either this, or
Ford gets quiet. "I, uh, kept tripping into the
"Um, right. So," says Carolyn. "Teenfactor?"
"Right," says Ford, escorting her inside the fire
SPECIAL SUPER-FUN LAZY MAP SECTION: TEENFACTOR HQ
_____ / _____________________ \
R | | Fire exit STAIRS |
_____ | | |
O | | | |
_____ | | | ___
O | | _____| |_____| \
_____ | | |
M | | First |M.B.>| TRAINING |
_____ | Floor | ___| _____ |
S | | (no ceiling)| | | |___/
_____ | | | |
| | Caf.| |
<-| STAIRS_____________|_____| |
FLOOR Second floor walkway |
Restroom ^ | |
________| | | |
Restroom| First floor Cafeteria|
________ (Lobby) | |
<-BASEMENT| | |
"Portions of the mission-briefing room and the
cafeteria are under the second floor walk-way,"
explains Ford. "The third floor is similar to the
second: a walk-way overlooking the first floor, with
five additional rooms for you youngsters to live in."
"That's great," says Carolyn. "But you still
haven't answered my question. What is Teenfactor?
Wait. How can the floor-plan be shaped like a fire
hydrant if the upright building is also shaped like a
"You know," says Ford, "we're not quite sure. But
if anyone can figure it out, it'll be you." He pats
her on the head, a little like a dog. This makes his
next explanation a bit disconcerting.
"Teenfactor," he says, "is to be the government's
pet team of super-powered teenagers."
"Exactly," says Ford.
"But why does the government want teen net.heroes?
Wait. Why does the government want me to be a teen
"Every team needs a genius," says Ford. "You
certainly fit that bill. Besides, with some of your
flying battle-suit designs, we think you could hold
your own in a fight."
"The government rejected my designs," says Carolyn.
"I couldn't get any money for R & D. No one takes a
"But we're taking you seriously," says Ford.
"That's why we're offering you this position. Free
room, clothes, food, et cetera, a hefty paycheck
besides, a research budget, and an opportunity to test
your armour in the field. And..."
"We do need someone with leadership potential,"
says Ford. "Now, as to your other question... why the
government needs teen net.heroes..."
"I don't care," says Carolyn. "I'm in. Show me to
"Here it is," says Ford. The room is small and
oblong, but not cramped. A well-made bed rests in one
corner, and a bookshelf in another. It's already
stocked with books and periodicals on science, math,
and Middle English literature.
"You've done your homework," says Carolyn. She
hangs her slicker in her closest.
"Open the dresser," suggests Ford.
She does. It's full of skimpy clothing. Carolyn
holds a see-through sleeveless blouse up in the air
"Oh!" says Ford, blushing. "They must have mixed
it up. It's supposed to have sweaters in yours! That
A new voice, heralding the arrival of a new player:
"This isn't particularly form-fitting, Gerald."
Ford steps aside. Standing in the door is a
redheaded teenager. If her long, bare gams are any
indication, she's a slinky one: Carolyn can't tell
because her torso is engulfed by a nice, big, billowy
"Been a bit of a mix-up," says Ford again.
"Carolyn, this is Roxanne Winter. Roxanne, this is
"Roxie," says the girl as she enters the room,
walking on her toes. "I'll trade you," she says,
yanking the sweater over her head. Ford averts his
Carolyn sees that she was correct: Roxie is
extremely slender. Her small breasts are cupped in a
tiny black brassiere that has no shoulder-straps. She
takes the blouse from Carolyn. The black shows
through the thin white blouse. If Roxie notices, she
doesn't seem to mind.
"I'll bring your other things over to swap in a
bit," says Carolyn as she carefully folds her sweater
and puts it on the end of her bed.
Roxie looks at the book-shelf. "You a science
"Something like that," says Carolyn embarrassedly.
"Y'know, Ernie's got practically the same books in
"Ernest Currie," says Ford. "One of the other
"How many are there?" says Carolyn. "You looking
to fill all ten rooms?"
"Only have one more in the pipeline, at the
moment," says Ford. "So it looks like four. I don't
think we'll be going over six. Still. Nice to be
prepared. I'll leave you ladies to get acquainted,"
he adds as he exits.
"Yeah, girl talk," sneers Roxie. "Let's do each
other's hair and have a pillow fight."
Carolyn looks confused.
"A joke," says Roxie.
Carolyn wants to ask Roxie about herself, but her
natural inquisitiveness seems to shut down whenever
it's up to Carolyn to initiate a social conversation.
She waits for Roxie to say something, and as the next
minute or so wears on, it becomes apparent to her that
Roxie is waiting for Carolyn to speak.
Roxie ends the stand-off with a good-bye: "Well,
I'll let you get settled in. Need anything, just
knock on my door. Otherwise, see you at grub time."
Dinner is slightly more interesting than their
attempts at conversation: scalloped potatoes and spam
trump how-are-you-doing and do-you-like-music any day.
About mid-way through the meal and shortly after the
conversation has been aborted, a fifteen-year-old boy
with thick glasses and a WIN button on his lapel
enters the cafeteria.
"Ernie!" coos Roxie. She turns to Carolyn. "I'd
like to scallop his potatoes."
He grips his tray tightly, his face turning red.
"Ernest Currie," he says to Carolyn, sitting across
from her and next to Roxie. "You must be Carolyn
"Yes," says Carolyn.
"I followed your work on nanites," says Ernest.
Carolyn grits her teeth. "Unfortunately, it didn't
"It will, eventually," says Ernest confidently. "I
did have a few ideas on how to sustain their activity
over a longer period of time, making them useful for
human bone reconstruction. You've probably tried them
"Sure," says Carolyn unenthusiastically. "Love to
get a fresh perspective."
"Ernie!" says Roxie, snaking her bare arm around
his shoulders. He tenses up. "Why don't you show
Carolyn your power?" She adds, "Do it to Carolyn.
It's really neat, Carolyn, and totally safe. Trust
"Um," says Ernest.
"Sure, if you're up to it," says Carolyn. "I don't
want to put you on the spot..."
"No, it's fine," says Ernest. "Um. Carolyn Forge
to the second power."
Suddenly, Carolyn becomes aware of someone sitting
next to her. She turns and nearly chokes on her spam.
Perfect down to the lovely warm sweater, there now
sits an exact duplicate of herself. Both Carolyns
reach and out and touch the other's face.
"How--?" they say at once.
"They call him Exponents Lad," says Roxie.
The Carolyns turn their heads towards the other
girl. Ernest sits there, as if in some kind of
"Is he okay?"
"Yeah, he does that when he uses his power. Just
kind of think it and one of you will disappear."
"Think it...?" And, just like that, there is only
one Carolyn. Ernest snaps out of his trance.
"Pretty gnarly, huh?" says Roxie. "Useful too, I
think." She tightens her grip on Ernest's shoulders
and presses her soft body into his side. "Just think
what I could do with two of you..."
Ernest shrugs her off, flinching. "No, Roxie," he
says. "I can't make a copy of myself. There'd be no
way for me to slip out of the trance."
"Well," says Roxie, "just think what you could do
with two of me, then!"
"That, that's not what I meant," says Ernest, quite
flustered. "God, you're vulgar!"
"Do you have a power, too, Roxie?" says Carolyn.
"Of course," says Roxie. "You want the fancy talk
for it, I emit extremely powerful pheromones straight
into someone's brain. But if you want it clean and
clear, I make people horny. And then they do whatever
I want them to do."
"Well, it doesn't work on me," snaps Ernest.
"That's because I haven't tried it on you yet,"
says Roxie. "You want a demonstration, Carolyn?"
"I don't think that would make Ernest very
comfortable," says Carolyn sternly.
"Thank you, Carolyn," says Ernest.
"Could always demonstrate on you, Carolyn," says
Roxie. "If you want."
"No thanks," says Carolyn. She starts to get up
from the table, having finished her meal.
"I'll take your tray," says Ernest.
They exit. Roxie stabs her plastic fork into a
limp piece of spam. "Alone. Again." She sighs.
Gerald Ford sets up a lab in the basement for
Carolyn to use to conduct her experiments. She spends
the next day working diligently and efficiently on
perfecting a personal battle-suit. From time to time,
Ernest will drop in and try to help.
Ernest certainly has enthusiasm for science, but
his grasp of it does leave something to be desired.
Carolyn explains in measured, bemused tones that no,
that's not the way this works and, actually, you're
forgetting this. And this author would certainly
provide some concrete examples, if not for the fact
that he, too, has an enthusiasm for science but does
not have the intellectual rigor required to actually
know what he's talking about.
Either way, these conversations more or less run
the same, and they end with Ernest getting frustrated
"Why don't we just take a break?" says Carolyn.
"We can come back to this later, when we've had a
chance to clear our heads."
"Sure," says Ernest, rubbing his fist along the
"So, uh, tell me about your powers. How long have
you had them?"
"I don't know," says Ernest. "I was making a joke
with a friend and suddenly there were six of 'em."
"Theoretically, I could create an infinite number
Carolyn curls up her nose. "Are you sure? I mean,
you could probably do any number that you like, but it
would have to be a real number. I don't think
something like infinity would be possible."
"Yeah, you're probably right," says Ernest quickly,
throwing up his hand.
"I didn't mean to upset you, I just..."
"I'm not upset," he says. "I'm not. I'm not
"Okay," says Carolyn cautiously. "I'm going to go
take a nap. Maybe we can meet back here in a couple
"Sure," says Ernest, bristling.
When Carolyn gets to her room, she finds a huge
mound of sweaters and pants in the doorway. She hefts
them in and puts them on her bed. She opens her
dresser to find that it has been emptied.
She heads next door and knocks.
"Yes?" says Roxie.
"Roxie, it's Carolyn."
"What is it?" Roxie calls through the door.
"Did you put my clothes in my doorway?"
"Yeah. Don't worry, I got mine already."
"I know," says Carolyn. "I was going to bring them
over and swap."
"That's okay," says Roxie. "I took care of it."
She turns up the music in her room.
Carolyn frowns and mutters to herself. "What'd I
Carolyn and Ernest are seated across from one
another, at the center of the long cafeteria table.
Roxie enters and sits at a corner.
"Why don't you come and sit here with us?" offers
"That's okay," says Roxie.
"Suit yourself," shrugs Ernest. They turn their
conversation back inwards, covering childhood
pleasantries and traumas between bites of tuna
Suddenly, they hear a sob: they turn towards Roxie
just as she walks off with her tray.
"Roxie?" calls Carolyn awkwardly. "What's wrong?"
"She just likes being the center of attention,"
says Ernest. "That's why she's here in the first
"I don't know," says Carolyn. "Maybe she thinks
she can do some good as a net.hero."
"It's not like her powers are particularly
practical," snorts Ernest. "Useless in combat."
"No more impractical than yours, Ernest," says
Carolyn. He begins to turn a livid red. She quickly
moves in to save herself. "Nothing against your
powers, but they require another person to work. And
while that other person and their duplicates are
fighting, you're in a trance, which puts you in great
"I'll be fine," he says. "You don't even have any
"No," says Carolyn. "No, I don't."
Ernest quickly scarfs down the rest of his dinner
in silence. Then he gets up and leaves.
Carolyn slowly picks at her food.
"Hello, everyone," Ford addresses the trio. A new
costumed figure stands besides him. "And welcome to
the training room. I thought this would be a nice
occasion to hold your first combat session. And to
take us through our paces, we have our newest, and
final, member, Malingerer Lad."
The costumed youth waves, more a sturdy salute than
an friendly oscillating palm. Carolyn notices that he
doesn't look particularly healthy.
"He comes to us from Net.ropolis," says Ford.
"Where he helped the Legion of Net.Heroes win two
decisive battles. Which reminds me." He hands
Malingerer Lad a WIN button.
Malingerer Lad hesitantly puts it on his person.
"So," says Ford, "I guess we'll get you started.
Reel in the robot combatants!" Some guards wheel in a
few robots, and Carolyn already is noting the flaws in
their design: flaws that can be exploited.
"You'll be sitting this one out," says Malingerer
Lad to Carolyn. "Gerald tells me that you're still
working on your battle-suit. Once you get it done,
then you'll join the group. Until then, it's not safe
for you to participate."
"I disagree," says Carolyn. "I think I can still
be of use. I can help determine battle strategy and
discover enemy weak-points."
Ford takes her aside. "Eh, maybe it'd be best if
you just got to work on the suit? Sooner it's
battle-ready, the sooner you'll be able to join the
team on a field mission."
Carolyn nods unhappily. Wasn't she supposed to be
leading this team...?
Well, actually, no. A letter slipped under her
door informs her that the first order of business at
tomorrow's team meeting in the Mission Briefing Room
will be to decide on a leader. You may nominate
yourself, the letter suggests, but cannot vote for
Carolyn liked it better when she was just going to
be the leader. None of this election crap. It's not
so much the election that worries her: she can
probably pull it off against Malingerer Lad. It's the
fact that she'll have to get up in front of her fellow
members and throw her name in the pot. It was so much
easier when she could modestly accept the role
designated for her.
She's not so thrilled with actually pursuing it.
She decides to go to her lab and work off some of
her anxiety. As she steps onto the walkway, she must
step aside for Malingerer Lad, who is exiting Roxie's
room. He's covered in sweat.
She's not sure if something untoward has taken
place: he's always covered in sweat, just as a ring of
mucous seems to permanently rainbow from his nostrils.
Ford said that he had the ability to fake the
conditions of actual illness, with no harm to his real
She walks by Roxie's door and sees that it's open.
Roxie lies on the bed, wearing a slinky little dress.
"Hi," she coos, waving at Carolyn with her toes.
The next day, Carolyn hovers around her lab,
testing the thrusters of her new power-suit. It
Excellent, she thinks. At least I can do something
"Hey, if I can do this," she says aloud, "I can
certainly ask people to vote for me!"
"So," says Ford, as they are seated in the Mission
Briefing Room. "I'll let you do this whole leadership
thing amongst yourselves. In the event of a tie, I'll
cast the deciding vote. When you're done, just press
the red button on the speaker and I'll come back to
give you your first assignment. Sounds exciting,
Malingerer Lad, true to form, is the first to speak
up. He stands. "I'd like to throw my own name in the
pot. I'm the only one with combat experience, I've
worked with the LNH, and I think I'm a fairly
responsible person. I can't say across the board that
I'd be the absolute best person for the job. But I
wouldn't suck, either. Thank you." He is seated.
"I'm voting for Malingerer Lad," says Roxie.
"Well," says Carolyn, stuttering slightly, "why
don't we hear who else wants the job?" She clears her
throat and opens her mouth to speak.
"I want it," says Ernest suddenly.
"Ernie?" says Roxie. "I think I'll stick with my
"Ernest," says Carolyn, feeling suddenly quite warm
underneath her sweater. "Are you sure...?"
"Yes, I'm sure," snaps Ernest. "I might not have
palled around with the LNH, but I'd be a damn good
"A damn good leader doesn't go into a coma every
time he uses his powers," says Roxie.
"I agree," says Malingerer Lad. "Not because I
want to eliminate the competition, but because I'm
concerned for you."
"And that's what makes him leadership material,"
"Just vote," says Ernest.
"Fine," says Malingerer Lad. "I vote for you,
because I don't have a choice."
"And I vote for you," says Ernest.
"That makes it 2-1 against you, Ernie," says Roxie.
"Ernest. My name is Ernest!"
"Most Carolyn can do is tie the thing. Then it's
up to Gerald."
All eyes turn on Carolyn.
She feels her body shrinking away, and she wishes
she could hide in her warm sweater forever. She
couldn't win if she put her name out there anyway. If
she voted for Ernest, there's still a chance he might
win it: after all, he was the only one still wearing
the WIN button. Of course, Ford could just side with
Malingerer Lad. There's no way to tell.
Much as she'd like to be leader, she knows it's
impossible. And while she's not thrilled with
Malingerer Lad, Ernest simply can't lead the team.
He's too angry, too undisciplined, and too vulnerable
in the field.
And, finally, even if tying it was to guarantee
Malingerer Lad's eventual win, the deadlock would just
enforce the cliques she already sees forming: Roxie
and Malingerer Lad versus Carolyn and Ernest. That's
not good for the team, and that's not what Carolyn
wants on a personal level.
And so, she casts her vote for Malingerer Lad.
Malingerer Lad smiles and presses the red button
Carolyn turns quietly towards Ernest. "I'm sorry,
"Yeah, yeah," snaps Ernest. "Story of my life."
COPYRIGHT (C) 2006 TOM RUSSELL.
Notes: This was written several months ago, and I've
just been waiting for an opportune time to post it. I
was going to change Gerald Ford in light of his recent
passing, but decided to leave it as is.
In the original (now non-canonical) series,
Teenfactor's Government Liaison was alternatively
named Gerald Ford or Gerald Brown, though neither were
meant to represent the ex-President.
| TOM |
\ RUSSELL /
/ ..\ *
\____/ * | *
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