“My point is… every day I was confused, or scared, or didn’t know what was wrong with me. I felt ungrateful. So blessed with so much, and I couldn’t just live the life people expected from me. And then… then I started reading about you. Not just the pioneering aviator, or aeronautical engineer… but a woman who kept her own name after marriage. A woman who lived her life and when it was public may have been coy but she was also unashamed. I wanted that, so badly. I just wanted to be… me. And be happy. You helped me believe that was possible. And then… the Pentad made it real.” She took a deep breath. “And I believe you’re really the ghost of Amelia Earhart. I don’t know why, but I do. And it feels like this is my big chance say all this to you, and to thank you – for everything, as well as for the advice you’re giving me now.” She paused. “Even when that advice is full of crap.”
The alternate universe the Sentinubal has tagged ⎇001JW first saw parahumanity emerge decades before. These new super heroes and villains, epitomized by the group called Justice Wing, quickly captured the public’s imagination and love, and for years they managed to only grow in popularity. After the wholesale destruction of the Apocalypse Agenda, where one of the founding members betrayed Justice Wing and devastation struck every continent on Earth, that popularity melted away. Now, the unenhanced prosahumans and non-super parahumans have put far more pressure on Justice Wing and other heroes, with no sign of that pressure letting up. This is Justice Wing In Nadir.
For years, the Pentad of Guardians were a mainstay of Empire City and the Excelsiors. Now, years after their greatest battle, the four remaining members have long since scattered. However, when Dorian Hwan — aka the bright burning Hearth — accompanied Keira Holt — aka Jetgirl — to Oghapogue, New Mexico for a trade show, the pair ended up being confronted by a Renegade Kitsune called Kit O’Six-Tails, along with a mechanical army of clockclick warriors and a heavy clockclick called Grunk. Jetgirl and Hearth found themselves fighting alongside the high flying Transposition Troopers Turbine Triumph, a team of color coded warriors empowered by the Transposition Matrix inspired by Jetgirl herself. After a hard battle, Grunk was defeated in a massive explosion, and the day was saved… leaving Jetgirl to head back to base with six heroes who idolized her… and her own doubts laid bare.
Oghapogue, New Mexico
“So… what good is the Pentad concept?” Josh asked. The Troopers, now transposed back into their normal bodies, were hanging out with Hearth and Orville while the now-healed Jetgirl got cleaned up and changed into a pair of mechanic’s coveralls Dr. Wilbur – aka Violet Turbine Bombardier – had loaned her. As near as Jetgirl could tell, they’d gotten onto the topic of the Pentad versus the Transposition Matrix. “I mean, if it doesn’t empower you?”
“As near as I can tell?” Hearth shrugged. “It’s pretty. And it looks kind of like the Chrysler symbol. Well, the one from the time. They’ve changed since then. They were going to sue us over it when it got some traction, but they thought better of it and made a public announcement of support.” Drifting over the mage’s hand was an illusion of a crystal pentagon, point up, with triangles along each side meeting in the middle to form a star. Each triangle was a different color. Gold on the upper right, red on the lower right, black on the bottom, green on the lower left, and finally blue on the upper left. “And it’s symbolic, or so we’ve been told. Thematically starting with gold? The points symbolize creation, destruction, chaos, order, and balance.”
“So if yellow’s creation, why isn’t Jetgirl the yellow pentad point?” Hope asked. “She didn’t get bitten by a radioactive armadillo or blessed by some Goddess no one’s heard of. She made her power suit after testing and building for years. The rest of you were given your powers – divine providence or aliens or radiation or–”
Hearth smiled even more warmly. “Just like Jetgirl, the rest of us were in those fractal anomalies for years even if out here it was minutes. I had to pass rigorous tests, study theories of unreality… I had a two year vow of silence, so that alone nearly killed me as you can imagine." The others laughed. "So, exactly when was I given my abilities?”
Hope came up short. “…okay… welp. Check off ‘offend Jetgirl’s sidekick’ on my bucket list.”
Hearth laughed. “Hardly offended, Hope. And of course Jet has a place in the Pentad, like we all do – but you should manage your expectations. Every member of the Pentad had to struggle hard to become what we’ve become. And you shouldn’t limit your understanding. I’m the destructive point, but in taking up my calling I swore a sacred oath not only to never cause harm to another being, but to provide care to any who need it, regardless of their affiliations.”
“You swore that… when you became a mage?” Ami asked.
“No,” Hearth said. “That’s a common misconception. I swore that oath when I became a doctor.”
Off to the side, Jet smiled a bit. She was watching from a different room, having been given a private space to strip off what was left of her seared and scorched base powersuit, grab a shower, and pull on a set of worker’s coveralls Dr. Wilbur loaned to her. She reached over and quietly slid the door shut. “God, he loves having an audience,” she said.
“So I see. He does it well. I think there’s at least three crushes on him in there.” The speaker was translucent, glowing a soft white that shimmered reddish, then blue, then yellow – the colors of the Transposition Matrix. Despite all of that, she didn’t just look human. She looked very, very familiar. “So. yellow represents creation and green represents destruction.”
“No, gold represents creation and red represents destruction. Well, pink in this case, though Hearth sometimes insists that’s ‘pale scarlet.’ Green is order.”
“…okay, sure. Why not? What are the rest of the pentad points again, and where do you fit in?”
“Huh? Oh. Green, blue, and bl…” Jet coughed. “Sorry. Black. Green represents order. That’s Shooting Star. She’s our leader – the ‘Leader and the Inspiration,’ to go with the old catchphrases. Gold is Teeny – Topaz. The strong arm and the smile. Black… black is chaos. And blue is balance. That’s me.”
“The balance between all the other things. Between creation and destruction, order and chaos. Turbine Red was actually onto something – I did have to invent whole new systems to lift off even the first time, and it took years of solitary building and design in a world that never was to be able to launch the JG-1, which I then used to blow things up. So destructive is covered. Everything I do is governed by order – physical properties, materials, engineering principles… but any time I launch into the sky I’m launching into an inherently chaotic environment of turbulence, wind shear, and interesting weather. Their points show us that the world is made up of all those things. My point shows that they work best when they’re in balance with one another.” Proven by her slipshod performance in battle – she was out of balance and knew it now.
“And then you almost got sued by Chrysler? I’m glad to hear they dropped that.”
“Oh yeah. They dropped it out of the goodness of their collective corporate heart… right after my mother called Lee Iacocca and read him the riot act over the whole thing.” She snickered. “We don’t usually mention that part of the story. Mom and I don’t always see eye to eye but I give her this. She had our backs on all this hero stuff right from the start.” She looked at the other being in the room. “And you’re Amelia Earhart.”
Amelia nodded. “Yes. Yes I am.”
“You’re the ghost of Amelia Earhart.”
“Yes. I am.” She smiled a bit more. “Well, or an echo, or reflection, or manifestation of the collective unconsciousness, or artifact of the Transposition Matrix. There have been a lot of theories about the ghosts and their connection to the Troopers. My favorite’s when the ghost of Robert Heinlein absolutely insists there’s no such things as ghosts and lists all the reasons why.”
“He was the native spirit of the Transposition Troopers on the Moon.” She grinned. “But going back to your question – from my point of view I’m absolutely the ghost of Amelia Earhart.”
“…why are you here? What is the ghost of Amelia Earhart doing advising a color coded team of… of…”
“Kinda! Can any of them legally drink?”
“I’m not sure, since none of them do.” She paused. "I think."
Despite herself, Jet snickered. “I’m sure they don’t.”
Amelia did too. “This is how it works, Jetgirl. With each new team – each new generation of the Transposition Troopers and their legacy – there are always three things. There is an incarnating spirit – a ghost, in other words. This time that’s me.” She waved. “There’s the maker. The builder. Archmage or engineer or both. In this case, that’s Doctor Wilbur.” Amelia chuckled. “And there’s always an inspiration.”
Jet flushed. “Yeah, well… what were the original team’s ghost and inspiration, then?”
“Bat Masterson and the Spirit of the Wild, Free Western Frontier.” Amelia snorted. “Well, the Hollywood version, anyway.”
Jet nodded. “I’ve been assuming there’s a divine component to the Transposition Matrix. If so, it works out of archetypes, not history. I can’t imagine too many of those kids embodying the spirit of the Trail of Tears.”
“That’s more the sort of thing our collective enemies are into. Though ‘those kids’ launched literally two years after the Pentad of Guardians, so maybe don’t sniff too hard.”
“I’m not. I admit to being a little thrown by five teenagers-question-mark wearing variations on my own uniform, but I never heard anything bad about the Terrific Transposin’ Troopers back in the day. Though what Bat Masterson and the John Wayne version of the West have to do with the Louisiana Delta…”
Amelia shrugged. “What do I have to do with New Mexico? Don’t think too hard about it. Archetypes are everywhere, after all. But I like how you jump from the original to the kids in the next room. What about the Prismatic Steel Troopers? Or the Lunar Troopers I mentioned? Or Operation Investigation?” She paused. “Ringing any bells?”
“Sorry. I guess I just lumped the whole thing in with the Transposin’ Troopers. That’s no surprise, though. Ant says that with the growth of the parahu–” Jet winced. “…that… I mean, yeah. The more heroes there are out there, the easier it is to focus on the big names and lump the rest in with background chatter.”
“Yeah.” Amelia smiled, a bit wistfully. “So, you’re older than I was when I died. Why are you ‘Jetgirl?’” She air-quoted that last word.
“Amelia Earhart air-quotes. Why does that not surprise me? You mean ‘why aren’t I Jetwoman’ or something like that?”
“More or less.”
Jet shrugged. “Because that name sounds like somebody else in my head. I’m Jetgirl. The Jet-Propelled Girl. It’s who I am. Who I’m comfortable being. And I’m bugged when someone takes the word that means ‘young woman’ as an insult. I get that those heroes who feminize male heroic names, all the way back to poor Paragirl – I get that’s problematic. But there wasn’t a Jetman before me. There’s that guy over in Utah – what was… what’s his name?”
“Rockboy! Right. He’s been Rockboy almost as long as I’ve been Jetgirl, but people just find that amusingly endearing. He retains this boyish charm after all this time, isn’t it adorable?” Jet shrugged. “Color me full of adorable girlish charm.”
“Well, obviously.” Amelia laughed, then sobered, slightly. “So I gather that despite showing up in town on unrelated business with a floating platform of weapons and armor always right over your head… you were kind of off your game, today? Not really prepared?”
“…yeah. Hearth wanted to know where Jetgirl the obsessive-compulsive overplanner went.” She paused. “Or where any Jetgirl went, really.”
“I can understand that. So where did she go?”
Jet looked at Amelia, then turned away, taking a deep breath. “You know something? You were my hero, growing up. I idolized you.”
“And since then I– wait, you know?”
Amelia shrugged. “Of course I know… Keira.”
Jet paused, then laughed. “Keep that on the down-low. ‘Jet’ is fine. Heh. It’s funny. We always used our codenames or nicknames based on those codenames, even just hanging around the base. We told ourselves we did it out of InfoSec – walls having ears and all – but mostly we just liked them. Like being… ourselves. The selves we’d chosen to be.” She shook her head, closing her eyes, caught in memory. “I’m Jet. We had Teeny, Shoot, Rath there in the next room…” she trailed off.
“And Antonym,” Amelia said, softly.
“Ant. We called her Ant. She died.” And just like that, those two words… those two words brought it all back. It was real again. New Jersey and arguing with Lambence of the Protectors and calling in all those favors… everyone in sickened shock… Jetgirl almost viciously tearing into Beguile–
“I know,” Amelia said, cutting in on Jet’s trip down memory lane. “I figured that out when you said everyone’s name when talking about Pentad colors… but didn’t actually say anything about the Black Pentad Point except that she existed.”
“Oh yeah. Ant existed, all right. The Black Pentad Point. Chaos. Champion of the Goddess of Fair Play on a world that never existed. Super-bonus founding Excelsior since Colin Church would only do it if she thumbed it up. Exemplar of opposition. The advocate and the adversary. She was Antonym. Cue guitar sting.” Jet wrapped her arms around herself, shuddering.
“Did she fall in battle?”
“She died in a car crash. And we weren’t there.” Jet’s voice quivered, just a bit. “We weren’t there.”
“People die, Jet. Ask me how I know.” Amelia chuckled.
“We’re part of each other, Amelia. We’re supposed to – we’re the ones who have each others’ back. We were third-tier most of our existence, and maybe hit second tier somewhere in there, but only collectively. Part of our identity – part of how the world knows us – is it’s the five of us, forever and always.” Jet took a deep breath. “And Ant died, and we weren’t there.” Her voice dropped to a whisper. “We didn’t even notice.”
Amelia nodded, but didn’t say anything.
“You and Rath want to know where Jetgirl went. She didn’t go anywhere. She’s right here. I’m Jetgirl. But… Ant died and I didn’t notice for months. When we needed Ant – truly needed her – she was there, even though we didn’t call her. And when she needed me…” Jet closed her eyes again. “The Apocalypse Agenda is long over. The Pentad’s destined requirements are all fulfilled. We don’t need a Pentad any more. And me? I didn’t deserve to be Jetgirl anymore. I didn’t deserve to be alive flying around the stratosphere when I didn’t even…”
“The five of you were in college when you became the Pentad, right?”
“Huh? Oh. Grad school. But we met in undergrad. By the end of Freshman year, we were… it was the five of us.”
“Sticking together right through grad school.” Amelia shook her head smiling. “All the same subject matter?”
“Oh God no. Me, I’m an engineer, with degrees and certifications and a jet-propelled snowmobile suit to prove it. We also had two Humanities Ph.D.’s, a medical doctor… and a lawyer.”
“I believe you.”
“We’re… we’re part of each other, Amelia. It’s… hard to explain.”
“Well, sure. Because it’s not true.”
Jet blinked. “What?”
“You five had extraordinary things happen right at that age when people graduate from college and grad school and spread out across the planet. We all thought those people we were closest to at 19, or 21… they’d be our tightest coterie of friends forever, because ‘we were connected. We were a part of each other.’ When Antonym died… were any of you other four in the same state at the same time?”
“…no, but that just–”
“Right. After the Excelsiors and the Apocalypse Agenda, you five did what literally everyone does with their college friends… keep in touch maybe. Maybe even close contact. But mostly, you separate. You go off to ‘real life’ and get jobs and make families and property, and eventually you realize that no matter how close you feel to your old pals in your head, your daily lives were completely separate. It’s… part of life, Jet. And eventually… some of you die. And sometimes you don’t notice… even for years. They’re still alive in your head… just like they’re the same age as the last time you saw them. And you’re just sure that if you find the right road… or the right air traffic lane… you can go back not just to the place but the time when you all became ‘part of each other.’”
Amelia smiled, sadly. “But there’s no course we can plot back to when we were young. Even time travel wouldn’t do it, because you’re not who you were at nineteen any more than I am.” She shrugged. “But you five had a shared, epic superhero origin, so it took a lot longer for you to reach ‘real life.’ You were in an adventure fantasy, after all. How long ago did Antonym die?”
“Almost two years ago. Back when I was flying the JG-234. In fact, I retired it after all that, and finished the two-thirty five.” Jet shrugged. “It was almost finished anyway. I kind of just polished it up and adapted it to use the 234’s gear loadouts. It’s… funny. I used to be building and redesigning all the time. There’s a reason that powersuit I trashed was the two hundred and thirty-fifth. I mean, not all of them got out of prototype, but they all taught me something. It was part of my life, every day. And it all centered around learning, improving, adapting to new circumstances.”
“Almost two years. And you’re still in the JG-235?”
“Well, not after today.” Jet laughed. “That suit’s not really salvageable. I found like six integrity failures in the base suit alone.”
“Yup. With layers of adaptive circuitry and techneural conduit paths burned away all over the thing. I’m kind of lucky it could still attach to the V Vector turbojets.”
“And you haven’t done anything on the JG-236?”
“Finished it, actually. Failed prototype, but there’s always something to learn from those. I had a magnetic repulsion concept I tried to flesh out, maybe add a new kind of stealth mode, or experiment with reactioness flight. I learned a lot about magnetism, noise, visual chaff, and the fact that ‘reactionless’ is another word for ‘slow.’ But I improved the magnetic catapult launch I do. That was off an old Colin Church idea, anyway.”
“And the JG-237?”
“I… have… an alpha design prototype that’s… thirty percent done, maybe? I haven’t been there for a while. I went from eight to twenty suits a year to one failure and haphazard work over eighteen months.”
“So if there’s an attack tomorrow, you’re grounded?”
Jet snorted. “No. I’ve got at least eight suits in ready-flight mode. Probably the one in best shape’s the JG-232. It’s not as flexible as the 235 when it comes to loadouts but it’ll work fine. Heh. Probably be in better shape than the 235 was today. But still…” She shook her head. “I didn’t realize any of this before today. I just… didn’t work on suits or take much time in the air. I missed maintenance checks, came here unprepared… Ant’s right. I got lucky.”
“Nothing.” She chuckled. “Well, at least I’ve got all that out in the open now.”
“So you’re better? Jetgirl’s back?”
Jet laughed. “Hardly. Of course I’m not better. I’m wounded, down in my soul.” She looked at the sliding door. “Hearth knew that. He cut it all open, so he could scrape the infection out and let me start healing, but that doesn’t mean I’ve actually processed any of this crap.” She shrugged a little. “Some of that ‘destruction at the core of healing.’ Maybe I can get better now. If nothing else, I can power through my mental block around ‘Jetgirl’ in the day to day.” She snorted. “Besides, I can’t die yet. I haven’t seen the Jolson Story.”
“In-joke. We do those. Trust me, Shoot would have at least politely snickered. Forget it.” She sighed. “Reaching for that side of myself aches. It hurts. But either I do that or I call it a day, and after today I’m pretty sure I don’t want to quit.”
“We’re pleased to be of service. Should we rejoin the others?”
“In a minute.” Jet looked at the shimmering apparition who she’d been opening up to. “I know I said it before, but… you… you were my idol.”
“And like I said before, I know.” Amelia grinned. “But tell me why. I’m really curious, now. I mean, besides the fact that you’re the Jet-Propelled Girl and I’m Amelia Earhart so of course I was your hero.”
“That was part of it, but only a small part. More than that…” she sighed. “A lot of people figure I must have had it pretty good. I come from… really shocking amounts of money. My mother and I have been in a sustained cold war with each other that occasionally thaws out for a little while since I was fourteen years old, but as near as I can tell it’s the people who don’t hate their parents at least a little who are weird. I’m… do not tell Hearth I admitted this… pretty easy on the eyes, and when I was younger even before the hero thing I had to politely decline modeling gigs. In fact, the few times I have modeled I was wearing the visor, and it was more of a Jetgirl and Pentad thing. How did I get on this subject?” She shook her head. “My point’s this – I had everything… but…”
“Remember the era of Free Love and acceptance contrasting with the Vietnam war? I didn’t grow up then. I grew up in the next era – with the disco, and the rampant cocaine, and the sexual revolution, and polyester. And one thing everyone remembers is the sexual revolution – the movement away from the repression of the past into a gloriously kinky future that could only be ruined by the AIDS epidemic. It was a fantastically liberated moment in history where suburbanites had key parties and drank martinis and were so bloody sophisticated you could cry. It was an amazing time.” Jet looked at Amelia. “If you were straight.”
“Oh, I think I know where this is going…”
“Maybe. Maybe not. Really, it just underscored… how different I was. I mean, people talked a good game but most of the time they expected girls to play with dolls or sew, not build model planes and then make them work. I built a flying radio controlled A-10 Thunderbolt, followed by an F-15 Eagle I still own. Oh, just for the record, kind of off on a tangent? I was really glad Turbine Blue had the Blue Strike Eagle Tankopter, even if ‘Tankopter’ is a really weird term.”
“Noted.” Amelia grinned a bit more. “You should take it out for a flight. It’s quite remarkable.”
“Maybe I will. My point is… every day I was confused, or scared, or didn’t know what was wrong with me. And I kept hearing some people loudly swear there was ‘nothing wrong’ with my ‘choice,’ while making all the same lisping jokes and rolling their eyes and… and I felt ungrateful. So blessed with so much, and I couldn’t just live the life people expected from me."
Jet smiled. "And then… then I started reading about you. Not just the pioneering aviator, or aeronautical engineer… but a woman who kept her own name after marriage. A woman who lived her life and when it was public may have been coy but she was also unashamed. I wanted that, so badly. I just wanted to be… me. And be happy. You helped me believe that was possible. And then… the Pentad made it real.” She took a deep breath. “And I believe you’re really the ghost of Amelia Earhart. I don’t know why, but I do. And it feels like this is my big chance say all this to you, and to thank you – for everything, as well as for the advice you’re giving me now.” She paused. “Even when that advice is full of crap.”
Amelia blinked. “Excuse me?”
“I didn’t say I was bestest friends with my college buddies, Amelia. I said the Pentad’s part of each other. That isn’t hyperbole. I know Rath said the Pentad was just a philosophical game, but we’ve had any number of unexplained connections. And even then I might have believed you, since we had no proof the Pentad itself existed as anything beyond a symbolic way to get us doing what we had to do to save reality.”
“It’s the way you say that so casually that’s endearing. ‘How was your day, dear?’ ‘Oh, not bad. Saved reality.’ ‘Well, that’ll happen…’”
“Heh. Sure. Why not. But anyway – you said something and I looked it up while we were talking.”
Amelia arched an eyebrow. “Looked it up?”
Jet tapped her visor. “Yeah. I do that. Points if you noticed.”
“Points denied, then. You said the Terrific Transposin’ Troopers first appeared a couple years after the Pentad.”
“So I checked. And sure enough. On a January the 27th a couple decades back, down in the Louisiana Delta, the Troopers first appeared, fighting a bunch of plastoids and taking down a monster.” She lifted her chin. “One year before that, on January 28th, a team of multicolor heroes wearing nearly but not quite identical full body suits appeared in Osaka Prefecture, Japan. Since then, the Troopers and these… Niji Kyōdaina Kishi? Maimed that pronounciation. Something like ‘Rainbow of Mighty Knights.’ The Troopers and these ‘Kishi’ have traded off, never quite in the same uniforms but always very close. And it might seem weird that they were a day off, but when they first appeared in Japan it was still January 27th in America.”
“It sounds like you may be on to something,” Amelia said, smiling a bit more. “Though for some reason it doesn’t often come up.”
“Yeah, well. Jurisdictions are such a pain in the neck. And obviously, the year before that the Skyquake happened in Empire City, creating the Astounding Alliance – and I don’t want to talk about them at all – the evil Beguile, and the Pentad of Guardians.” She waited a beat. “On 27-January.”
“Meaning… who knows? Maybe it’s coincidence. But honestly, the simpler explanation is the same fractal fracturing of space, time, imagination, intellect, and intuition that made me Jetgirl led to the Transposition Matrix existing in the first place.”
“It sounds plausible enough. So how does that make what I told you wrong?”
“I didn’t say it was wrong. I said it was crap. The four… the five of us know we’re connected. Maybe it’s just by shared experience – we all spent years becoming heroes inside of the Skyquake, even though that took maybe ten minutes as far as the rest of the world was concerned. We’d have all stayed in there, but we were drawn together by the star and Beguile’s threat and mostly by each other. We even had a destiny born of the same event that forged us into the Pentad of Guardians. When I say we’re part of each other, I mean it.”
“Pull your head out of your ass, Jet. We still have work to do.”
Jet paused, looking away.
“What is it?”
“Hm. Nothing. Just… having some other assumptions challenged.”
“That’s the best thing to do to assumptions. So, they all hung back when we first came here, as much out of awe as anything else, but there’s six people in there who’d like to formally meet you, if your social calendar’s free?”
“I’m missing a meeting even as we speak, but I’m not going to rush off to it now. Let’s do this. I’m really curious why six clearly talented and special young people are into me. I’m so not first tier.”
“Neither was I, really.”
Jetgirl snorted. “Oh yeah. No one noticed the solo transatlantic flight.”
“I was never Charles Lindbergh, and I refused to be the female Charles Lindbergh, no matter how many reporters and advertising types tried. Honestly, if I’d actually safely landed on Howland Island, I doubt anyone would remember me today.”
“Oh yes we would,” Jet said.
“Well, it’s moot.” Amelia grinned. “Shall we go say hello, before Hope explodes with anticipation?”
“Sounds like a plan. And… y’know. Thanks for helping me talk this through.”
“What’s an inspiration for if not to inspire?” She laughed. “C’mon.”
“…spun on her heel, dug down deep, and threw an epic uppercut,” Hearth was saying. “And the mass exploded into tomato, cheese, pasta and fire. And Topaz looks up, eyes wide, and says ‘my God, it’s full of Spaghettios.”
The Troopers were listening, raptly, and giggled and laughed along – laughed harder than the joke warranted, really, but Hearth was good at getting an audience on his side. He could take the worst standup act on Earth and headline at Harrahs with it. No doubt that’s why he was a medical doctor instead.
Jetgirl smiled ruefully, then entered, shaking her head. “Please, Hearth. Please tell me you’re not telling them about the Giant Lasagna Attack on Saks Fifth Avenue.”
“It is an ancient tale of valor and glory,” Hearth said. “Each new generation should learn to tell it themselves. Clearly we need someone to produce a movie.”
“Yeah. That’ll happen.” Jetgirl looked around. The Troopers had been relaxed, but at least the five younger Troopers had tensed up after she came in the room. Nervous. Edgy. Like their idol just walked into the room or something. “Hey guys,” she said. “Someone mentioned pizza?”
“Orville just went to pay for it and bring it in,” Dr. Wilbur said. She wasn’t any tenser than before, but then she was still focusing on the different schematics. She at least was worried, or at least trying to unravel some technical Gordian knot in her brain. Jet knew that feeling all too well.
“Well, cool,” Jet said. “Hey Hearth – why don’t we have a roboid assistant?”
“I dunno,” Hearth said. “We should ask our ubertech specialist why she hasn’t made one.”
“Hey, I’m bad at true digital intellects. That’s why Sky-eye’s a nonsentient advanced learning artificial intelligence. Until I can give her a personality, anyway. Or at least help her find one of her own.”
“The way you yell at Sky-eye sometimes?” Hearth smiled dubiously. “Maybe a personality’s a bad idea.”
“Well, you’re not wrong.” Jet looked back at Amelia. “So, who’re your friends? I feel like I’ve met them before.”
“Because you have, obviously,” Amelia said with a grin. “Jetgirl, this is Hope, Pat, Josh, Mare, and Ami, aka Turbines Red, Blue, Black, Pink, and Yellow. That woman over there is Violet Turbine Bombardier, otherwise known as Doctor Rachel Wilbur. You’ve met Orville, at least briefly, and you’ve met me, but for the record I’m usually called Earhart. Collectively, we are Transposition Troopers Turbine Triumph.”
“First the Terrific Transposin’ Troopers. Now Transposition Troopers Turbine Triumph. Is alliteration off the letter ‘T’ a requirement in the Transposition Troopers franchise kit?” Jetgirl grinned more.
“Believe it or not, it’s coincidence,” Amelia said. “Even the second team out of the gate was just called Transposition Troopers Icon.”
“The Paragon-inspired team, right?” Hearth asked. “Jet, I mentioned them to you. And a few years back we had a Trooper team called Archmagical Ascent. The ones with uniforms kind of like mine?”
“Yeah, well, shut up. That was a good practice run but now the cool troopers are here.” Jet’s smile grew broader. “It’s really good to officially meet you outside of combat. I’m Jetgirl, but my friends call me Jet. So… y’know. You guys should do that.”
Hope’s eyes grew a bit wide. Amelia picked up on that and glided through the air, her ghostly form not bound by gravity. “Turbine Triumph’s the first team of Troopers to have more women than men on it,” she said. “And Hope is the first female Red Trooper.”
Jet laughed. “About time. You’re awesome, Hope. It may be sacrilege on this Jetgirl loving team but you remind me of Shooting Star, at least a little.”
“Wait until you get her riled up,” Hearth said. “She responds to annoyance with snide sarcasm. Shoot would approve.”
“And so would I,” Jet said, holding her fist towards Hope. After a long moment of fear and excitement crossing the young woman’s face, she reached over and bumped fists with Jet. “There we go!”
“This is so cool.” Josh said, grinning. Brown haired, handsome – kind like Hearth back when the archmage was 19.
“Yeah,” Pat said, shifting a bit. He was the tallest, with broad shoulders, but more lean than overmuscled. He looked nervous too, but in a bad way.
“Pat?” Jet asked. “Everything okay?”
“Well…” Pat looked at Hearth, then looked back. “Hearth was telling us about the Pentad, and its philosophical underpinnings. I don’t think any of us really understood how much the colors defined you guys.”
“He may have overstated that. But what’s the issue?”
Pat flushed, looking down. “It… was one thing to be Turbine Blue. But to be the Blue Trooper, wearing your color… it feels… disrespectful, somehow.”
“Really? I think you look fantastic in uniform. Not everyone can pull that design off. And the only way I’d feel disrespected is if your team didn’t have someone in blue. As it is, I’m not sure how to tell Shoot there’s no Green Trooper.”
“Not this time, anyway,” Josh said. “Different teams have different colors – there’s always red, almost always blue and yellow, and everything else is in flux.”
“Ma’am,” Pat said, shuffling a bit more. “I… thank you. That means a lot.”
“Good. Now relax and call me Jet. The one thing I don’t get is why I’m your inspiration. There’s lots more famous heroes out there.”
“Are you kidding?” Hope said, then flushed. “Sorry–”
“Don’t be sorry. Just finish your thought,” Jet said, laughing.
“Sorry! Sorry. It’s just… I know you guys were considered… um… regional, I guess? Five more heroes on the crowded Empire City scene–”
“Third tier, collectively. There was a brief window where we were associated with Empire City the way the Beacon’s associated with Paramount City, but the Cavalier and Foolhardy predated us and then eight thousand other heroes followed and we were just faces in the crowd. Eventually, we named that crowd the Excelsiors.”
“Right, right. But… I know all five of you had to work hard to master your talents and abilities…" Hope looked guiltily at Hearth, who smirked because Hearth was nothing if not a smirker. "But they all had empowerment events or control over external energies – full on induced or secondary parahuman expression. But not you. You just had your brain, your hands, and the will to make yourself a hero – and not just compete with the others but be one of their heaviest hitters. I mean – look at the fight today!” Hope bounced a bit, enthusiastically. “We all transpose our subatomic particles with energized particles out of the Transposition Matrix. That gives us power, speed, dexterity… not to mention weapons and other powers. And you showed up, ‘transposed’ into an armored suit you built, and stepped right past us and kicked all the butts out there trivially. That’s… amazing.”
“We know there’s a lot of prosahuman superheroes out there,” Ami said. “But not a lot of them brought that much power to bear that quickly. And you kept going – always improving, always building… I mean, okay. The Nightwatch – Nightstick back then – he was the first prosahuman hero, but it was all martial arts and gadgets and his tonfas. You soared.”
“And all with a pilot’s mindset,” Josh cut in. “And an engineer’s mindset.”
“Can you have two mindsets at the same time?” Ami asked Josh.
“Hey, I have at least six at any given time!”
“Yeah Josh. We all know you’re distractible,” Mare said. She was clearly shy, compared to the others. “But… it’s more than you building your suit and – I mean, those are amazing, but it’s not… um…”
“It’s who you are, more than what you’ve got or what you built or even what you’ve done,” Doctor Wilbur said, looking over for the first time. It was weird, since she was years younger than Jet, but it seemed a bit insane to call her by her first name, even in Jet’s head. She was just ’Doctor Wilbur. “I know when I was younger than any of them…” she looked away.
“Go on,” Jet said, smiling. “It’s okay.”
“I… we… we all have ways where we feel… where we are different than our peers around us,” Doctor Wilbur said, flushing a bit. Her skin was pale, so the flush showed up clearly, the white and purple of her hair framing her flushed cheeks. “Sometimes really different. And back then…” She snorted. “Look, you remember those days. ‘Morning in America’ and all that… back then, celebrities stayed in the closet. Heck, Paul Lynde died about then, and he never officially came out. Paul Lynde. It… it seemed to validate everyone’s prejudices, you know?”
Doctor Wilbur closed her eyes. “And then there was you. Flying over Empire City Pride carrying a flag, and when you saw national news coverage, you waved.”
Jet blushed, laughing a touch. “Well be fair,” she said. “Topaz was marching in that same parade, and Rath and Star were all attending in support.” She paused. "Along with Ant," she said softly. "Ant was there too."
Hearth’s smile grew, just a touch.
"Yeah yeah," Doctor Wilbur said, waving her hand dismissively. “The point’s just… you lived your life. In a world that kept telling me to hide who I was, you were just… you, and you didn’t care who knew it. That meant… that meant more than you could know.”
Jet glanced at Amelia, who just looked smug. “Actually… I have some idea. And I’m honored. I honestly am.” She chuckled. “I’m sorry that… I hadn’t heard of all of you before coming here. I was never good at keeping up with other heroes in the first place. It all grew so fast and I was pretty focused on our team. And in the last… for a while now… I haven’t really felt like me.” She took a breath. “True confession? When you transposed and I saw your uniforms… I was actually pretty upset.”
That took some of the air out of the room, all right, but Jet went on. “The thing is – thinking about it, talking with Hearth and Amelia… I wasn’t upset at any of you. I was upset at me. Upset that I’d let Jetgirl slip away – upset that maybe someone else… that five ‘someone elses’ were taking my place. But… I saw you all in action, supporting each other, protecting the city… it was thrilling. And humbling. And… by the time we finished Grunk the first time I was… it meant a lot to fight alongside you guys. And an honor for you to be wearing my standard.”
“Um… ma’am?” Mare asked.
“Jet, please. I hear ‘ma’am’ and I look around for my mother, and that’s generally a bad thing.”
“Right! Right. Jet… why… I mean, we’d noticed you’d disappeared. We only started around a year ago, when Amelia and Doctor Wilbur recruited us, but you’d been off the scene for like six months. Why?”
Jet glanced at Amelia, then Hearth.
Hearth was still smiling a little, watching her.
“Antonym died,” Jet said. “And I know… the rumors were that she’d died over a decade before the Apocalypse Agenda, and then more rumors that she died during the Agenda, and to my knowledge she never acted publicly again after that so I guess maybe it was true enough, but she actually died… not too long before I dropped out of sight.” She chuckled. “The funny thing is, she’d be so angry at me for letting things slide. She’d tell me… she’d tell me to pull my head out of my ass. She’d tell me…” Jet looked at Hearth. “She’d tell me that the job – our job – isn’t done.” She looked at Josh – Turbine Black. “Tell me something. Are you a monumental pain in the ass?”
“Yes,” the other four Troopers Josh’s age said in unison.
“Hey!” Josh said, looking around. “That’s–”
"Hey, we don’t say ‘ass’ around here," Earhart said, grinning.
Jet smiled a bit, ignoring the ghost. “Good. Keep it up. Keep them on their toes. And all of you keep flying. Do that, and you’ll deserve those uniforms as much as I deserve mine.” She smiled a bit more. “And in turn I promise to work harder at continuing to deserve mine.”
“Thank God,” Hearth said. “I was worried I’d have to get Teeny to sit on you.”
“And here’s pizza!” Orville said, waddling in with holding several boxes. “Something for everyone who actually has a digestive system!”
Jet grinned. It smelled amazing – she was always hungry after a win. She looked around while the Troopers relieved the roboid of the boxes–
Doctor Wilbur was staring at holographic schematics – they looked like engines, stats floating nearby.
“What’s up?” Jet asked her, stepping closer.
“Sorry – I don’t mean to be rude,” Doctor Wilbur said. “It’s just… if you hadn’t been there today we’d have lost. When the Kitsune started using Heterodyne Power… it was rare at first. Clearly they’re adapting it quickly – they’d never used it with a full clockerking before now. If I could just figure out Scramjet mode we could compete, but… urgh! It’s driving me nuts! We have a development window thanks to you dusting all those clockclicks – they haven’t had a setback like that for a while. I just…”
“I get it,” Jet said. “I’ve been there. A lot.” She looked over the schematics. It really was some kind of turbine technology, only instead of a physical fluid like air or water the energy of the Transposition Matrix channeled through it, generating power–”
Jet blinked. She cocked her head. “Those specs,” she said, nodding to the floating text windows. “Those are accurate estimates? Materials? Tolerances and expected energized fluidic pressures?”
“Yeah,” Doctor Wilbur said. She blinked. “Why?”
For the first time in quite a while, Jet felt her mind… wake up? Maybe. Her eyes trying to see every part of the schematic at once. “Looking at the intake assembly… you’re not just trying to increase the flow through the turbine – you really are trying to effectively compress the flow into an analogue to combustion, aren’t you? You really are trying to make a transposition matrix scramjet. And then channel that energy flow through the turbines.” She shook her head. "That’s amazing."
“Only if it works. Even then it’ll take a few minutes after transposition to ramp up the flow enough to initiate matrix combustion, but at that point we can increase power exponentially, transposing new armor and gear onto the Troopers and running it at a much higher–”
“Right, right. I get it. I get it." She nodded. "You’re throttling the intake too much."
Doctor Wilbur blinked. "What?"
Jet shook her head slightly. "If this were a jet engine the flow through the combustion chamber would be subsonic, not supersonic. You need to open it up more–”
“That would exceed the material tolerances.”
“Not necessarily. If we can get an efficient–”
“…hey wait,” Orville cut in. “Since when are you a Transposition Matrix expert?”
Jet shook her head absently. “I don’t need to be. I’m an engineer. If I know the materials, the design, and what’s supposed to flow through them… you know…" She narrowed her eyes, her voice dropping a bit. Pondering. Distracted, almost. "This reminds me a little bit of the JG-177’s thrust assembly. And the JG-204’s pulse repeater gauntlet modulator. Honestly, if these specs mean what I think they do I’d bet your uniforms disperse the matrix energy similarly to–”
Hearth cleared his throat.
Jet looked over. “What?”
“I… figured I should remind you that you’re here to give a speech and sign some contracts.” He smiled a bit. “Right? I mean, you’re not out here to spend a couple of hours… or days… or weeks… or who knows how long making a nuisance of yourself while you build another fifteen prototypes while forgetting to eat.”
"…omigosh…" Mare said, quietly.
Jet looked at him for a long moment, before her own smile crept back onto her face. “Doc? Can you give me a couple minutes?”
“Awesome.” Jet stepped back, tapping her visor, placing a call–
The line picked up. “Keira!” Maud hissed over the phone line. “Where are you? I’ve got two angry lieutenants and a major twiddling their thumbs!”
“A major? The Air Force couldn’t even bother sending a short colonel? Ridiculous. I got caught in a super-fight downtown. I’m okay – Turbine Triumph saved us, but–”
“Okay okay okay. Yay. Thank God you’re safe. Whatever. I’ll tell them. Get here as fast as you can. I’ll have them run the keynote’s prep–”
“Yeah… don’t think I’m making it.”
“I think… I think I’m skipping the conference. Sorry about that.”
“Skipping th– what do I tell the Air Force!?”
“Tell them they know what the mods can do. Tell them how much they cost. Tell them that if Boeing doesn’t want to pay it Church Aerospace absolutely will and the Navy can have them instead. You know this drill better than I do, right?”
“And the keynote?”
“You and Karl give the keynote. Why not? You wrote it.”
“They expect to see you. The optics–”
“It’s an aerospace industry keynote address, not E3 or a smartphone launch. Anyone worth our time won’t care if I’m in the room, and anyone else doesn’t matter because they’re not buying our engines. I have every confidence in your ability.”
Jet hung up. “Hey guys – do you have a place where a cargo drone can land securely?”
“…wait… really?” Hope asked. "You’re really…"
“Sure,” Pat said. “The tankopter bays have room.”
“Awesome. Hey Orville – get Falconer back on the line. Ask her to call my support team. The back room team. She knows what that means. Tell them I need the JG-232 sent out, along with a couple launchable support platforms. And… have them send the JGX-237 while they’re at it. I have an idea and I’ll need some downtime in the evenings. Oh, and make sure they send my toolbox. I’m gonna need my toolbox.” She looked at Hope. “If you don’t mind having a guest?”
“…a gue– are you kidding?!” Hope was almost vibrating.
“Awesome.” Jet grinned.
“Out of curiosity,” Hearth murmured to Pat, “how… big are the tankopter hanger doors?”
“What? I mean, big enough for tankopters. Those things aren’t small.” He paused. “Why?”
“Oh, nothing. I’ve just… seen Jet’s toolbox.”
“Hearth – I’m gonna hang here for a bit, make a nuisance of myself. If you want to hit up the conference or head back to California I totally–”
“You’re joking, right? First off what would I even do at an aerospace conference without you. Secondly? Do you honestly think I’m going to miss a minute of this? I’m about to call Shoot and Teeny – get them to fly out.” He chuckled. “Ever higher, right?”
“Damn right.” She walked over to Doctor Wilbur. “You okay with all this?”
“…are you kidding? Even if I weren’t squealing like a three year old inside my head right now any chance to get Scramjet mode working… thank you.”
“Thank me when we’re done.” She began putting her hair up, looking at the schematics. “All right. Show me some of your previous attempts. And if someone can make coffee I’ll be your best friend.” Jet smiled more. “I feel like I’m behind, Doc. Get me up to speed.”
Dedicated to the memory of Christopher Meadows,
digital advocate and Robotech Master,
without whom Jetgirl would never have gotten off the ground.
With special thanks to K.B. Spangler, Howard Tayler, Matthew Gerber
and Dr. Roland A. Burns, Jr., (Staff Sergeant, USAF)